MAINTENANCE OF THE CHINESE LANGUAGE IN
THE UNITED STATES
This article challenges the prevailing view that a non-English language
in the United States will eventually shift to English over time. It
argues that the status of a minority language is not determined by
time but by social demographic, sociopolitical, socioeconomic, and
sociocultural forces. It attempts to isolate these forces by studying
the Chinese language in the United States. Factors studied as favorable
to Chinese language maintenance are the following: mass immigration;
a concentrated settlement and residential pattern; the rising of the
sociopolitical and socioeconomic status; a strong emphasis on cultural
continuation and ethnic identity; an intragroup marriage pattern;
interethnic cultural differences; close ties with the home country;
growth of mass media; and the change of American language policy.
An examination of the language status of an immigrant group provides
insights into this group's social, political, economic, and cultural
When one group of people begins to five together with another group
that speaks a different language, its language is subject to two fates:
either it continues to be used by one or both groups in most societal
contexts, or it is given up and replaced by a new one, which is used
in most or all societal domains. The former process is called "language
maintenance," and the latter, "language shift," or
"language death" if the first language is no longer used.
Many studies of language maintenance and shift hold that language
shift prevails over language maintenance in the United States. Macias
writes, "In an immigrant country, the notions of language and
culture change lead one to assume non-English language loss over time.
To speak another language is only a temporary phenomenon.... Consideration
of 'maintenance' language policy, then, is often viewed as temporarily
delaying the inevitable (italics added) loss of the non-English language.
. . " (1979:96).
As we know, however, Chinese people have been living in the United
States for more than two hundred years and their language is still
widely used today. Can this be explained or considered as a temporary
delay of its inevitable loss? This study attempts to answer this question
by viewing some social demographic, sociopolitical, socioeconomic,
and sociocultural factors that have influenced the trend of the Chinese
language in the United States.
Maintenance or Shift?
Although studies have found that language maintenance does exist in
the United States (see Fishman 1966), most of the studies of language
shift and maintenance favor the theory that language shift prevails
over language maintenance in the United States. Haugen writes, "[Many
immigrant languages] remained more or less temporary means of communication....
Political and social pressures have uniformly been unfavorable to
their continued use and have gradually whittled down their constituencies"
(Haugen 1956:11). Lieberson (1981: 1) claims that in the United States,
various populations have given up their mother tongues in the course
of a few generations, and that "the shift to an English mother
tongue was rapid" (Lieberson 1981:158). Kloss (197 1) proposes
that an immigrant group would forsake its native cultural heritage,
such as language, in order to be assimilated into the host culture.
Descriptions of language shift are found in studies by Benson (1937),
Casagrande (1954-55), Gehrke (1935), Haugen (1953), Prince (1910),
An inquiry about the status of the Chinese language in the United
States was made by Wen Lang Li's study The Language Shift of Chinese-Americans
(1982). Based on the analysis of the 1% public-use sample of the 1970
U.S. census, the study found that there was an accelerating shift
of mother tongue from the first to the second and from the second
to the third generation in the Chinese American population. Two factors
were studied as significant in their effects on language maintenance
and shift: (1) socioeconomic status and (2) residential pattern. A
higher socioeconomic status and a concentrated residential pattern
have positive effects on language maintenance and negative effects
on language shift.
To determine the status of a minority language, one should look at
not only the tendency between generations but also the relative proportion
of the people who speak the language as a mother tongue to the people
who speak it as a foreign language or a second language in terms of
the overall population of the minority group. The increase of the
former proportion may indicate a maintaining tendency and its decrease,
a shifting tendency. The method to determine the status of a minority
language by its maintaining or shifting tendency between generations
is not reliable or sufficient, especially in the case of a mass immigration
like Chinese, which increases the proportion of the first-generation
Furthermore, immigration, socioeconomic status, and residential patterns
are only some of the factors affecting language maintenance and shift.
To study how a minority language maintains its status and how it shifts
to a majority language, one should take other factors into consideration,
such as sociopolitical status, education, ties with the homeland,
nationalism, the extent of exogamous marriage, mass media, and government
language policy. All these factors interact in the process of language
maintenance and shift.
Since the normalization of Sino-American relations in 1979, great
changes have taken place in the Chinese American population and their
society. More Chinese have immigrated from the mainland as well as
Taiwan. The homeland's social, political, and economic developments
have greatly raised the degree of their national pride. The sociopolitical
and socioeconomic status of Chinese in America has been considerably
improved. The tie with the home country has been strengthened through
more social, economic, and cultural activities. More Chinese schools
have been set up. The Chinese mass media, such as Chinese newspapers,
magazines, and radio and television programs, have developed. A great
number of Chinese students and visiting scholars have come to study
in the United States. All of these developments must have reinforced
the maintenance of the Chinese language in this country. Based on
these facts, it is hypothesized that the Chinese language is in a
process of maintenance rather than shift.
Maintenance Rather Than Shift
In studying German language maintenance in the United States, Kloss
(1966:206) isolated six factors as favorable to language maintenance.
They are the following: (1) religio-societal insulation; (2) time
of immigration: earlier than or simultaneously with the first Anglo-Americans;
(3) existence of language islands; (4) affiliation with denominations
fostering parochial schools; (5) preimmigration experience with language
maintenance efforts; and (6) former use as the ony official tongue
during pre-Anglo-American period. He also found nine ambivalent factors,
which are either favorable or unfavorable to language maintenance.
These nine ambivalent factors are as follows: (1) high educational
level of immigrants; (2) low educational level of immigrants; (3)
great numerical strength; (4) smallness of the group; (5) cultural
and/or linguistic similarity to Anglo-Americans; (6) great cultural
and/or linguistic dissimilarity between minority and majority; (7)
suppression of minority tongue(s); (8) permissive attitude of the
majority group; and (9) sociocultural characteristics of the minority
group in question (Kloss 1966:211212). Factors I and 2 can be reduced
to the educational level of immigrants; factors 3 and 4 to the numerical
strength of the minority group; factors 5 and 6 to the extent of cultural
and/or linguistic similarity/difference between the minority and the
majority group; and factors 7 and 8 to language policy of the majority
Of Moss's six factors favorable to language maintenance, only the
existence of "language islands" can be used in the Chinese
case. Factors reduced from his nine ambivalent factors are all favorable
to Chinese language maintenance. Besides these factors, the sociopolitical
and socioeconomic status, the extent of interethnic marriage, attitudes
toward the native culture, and mass media are also significant factors
in the maintenance of the Chinese language in the United States.
A Higher Immigration Rate
The numeric strength of an ethnic group in relation to other groups
is one of the important factors in determining its language status.
Generally speaking, a larger minority group is in a better position
than a smaller one in maintaining its language: the larger the group
is, the more people speak the language. A higher rate of immigration
enlarges a minority group in size and increases the number of people
speaking the native language, thus helping its maintenance.
Since the first Chinese came to the United States more than two hundred
years ago, the numeric strength of Chinese Americans has been continuously
reinforced, except during the period of exclusion (1882-1943). The
Chinese became numerically significant in the mid-nineteenth century.
Although the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act made the Chinese population
in the United States decrease to an insignificant number in the following
few decades, the number of Chinese immigrants has increased greatly
since the Second World War, following a series of historical events:
the 1965 Immigration and Nationality Act Amendments, the normalization
of the SinoAmerican relation in 1979, and the 1982 new immigration
law (which allows 20,000 Taiwanese immigrants each year). The great
and rapid influx of new Chinese immigrants has greatly increased the
number of Chinese in the United States. Since 1940, the number of
Chinese in the United States has been increasing at a rate of more
than 50% (Table 1). According to the 1980 U.S. census, the Chinese
American population ranked first among all Asian American populations
(3.834 million). "The combined annual figures for China, Taiwan
and Hong Kong from 1985 to 1989 averaged more than 40,000" (The
New York Times, Feb. 24, 1991). Today the Chinese in the United States
number more than 1.64 million (U.S. 1990 Census; The World Journal,
June 12, 1991), not including the number of undocumented Chinese (the
Jan. 3 1991 New York Times estimated 30,000 undocumented Chinese in
New York City) constituting almost one quarter (23.9%) of the total
Asian American population (6.881 million, estimated by The New York
Times, Feb. 24, 1991; see Figure 1.
The great and rapid influx of new Chinese immigrants in the past half
century has not only greatly increased the number of Chinese in the
United States but also enlarged the proportion of Chinese-speaking
Chinese in America. According to Fessler's 1983 study, the Chinese
who emigrated between 1970 and 1980 cnstitute more than one-third
of the total Chinese population in the United States. The 1960, 1970,
1980, and 1990 U.S. census studies show that the proportion of foreign-bom
Chinese (mainly Mainland, Taiwanese, and Hong Kong Chinese) in the
Chinese American population has increased significantly during the
past forty years. With a higher rate of immigration and a lower birth
rate in Chinese Americans ("The fertility rate for Chinese in
the U.S. population is ... the lowest of any ethnic group" [Fessler
1983:221]), foreign-bom Chinese have been increasingly outnumbering
native-born Chinese in the United States (Table 2). This increasing
proportion of foreign-born Chinese-speaking Chinese is definitely
helping the maintenance of Chinese in this country.
*Note the numerical difference in Table 1. **Including Mainland China
and Taiwan. Source: U.S. Bureau of the Census.
The recent great influx of Chinese immigrants has not only increased
both the number of Chinese in the United States and the number of
Chinese-speaking Chinese Americans but also changed the use of Chinese
dialects in the United States. Previously, Cantonese and Toishanese
were the main communicative media among Chinese Americans. Cantonese/Toishanesespeaking
Chinese had a language barrier in their communication with speakers
of other Chinese dialects. To overcome this barrier, they resorted
to English. Today, with more Chinese coming from Taiwan and other
parts of China than the south, Taiwan's Guo-yu (national speech) and
mainland China's Pu-tong-hua (common speech = Mandarin; Guo-yu and
Pu-tong-hua are similar) are being used more and more and are becoming
a lingua franca among Chinese. This change is facilitating communication
among Chinese, increasing the use of the Chinese language and thus
helping its maintenance.
In summary, mass Chinese immigration has increased the number of native
Chinese among Chinese Americans. The greater the proportion of immigrants,
the more who speak the native language, and the stronger the tendency
to maintain it. It is estimated that in the next decade there will
be a great peak of Chinese immigration into the United States, as
Hong Kong will be returned to the People's Republic of China in 1997,
and there will be a possible unification of Mainland China and Taiwan.
This new immigration surge will reinforce greatly the numeric strength
of Chinese in America and increase the number of Chinese speakers,
thus strengthening the status of the Chinese language in the United
A Concentrated Settlement and Residential Pattern
The United States is a vast land. If an immigrant group settles on
this land dispersively, its intragroup communication will be geographically
obstructed even though this group has a large population. A concentrated
settlement of an immigrant group, even though the group is a small
one, can strengthen its intragroup communication and facilitate its
language maintenance. The history of Chinese immigration to the United
States is characterized by concentrated settlement. The Chinese immigrants
have clustered mainly in a small number of states (Table 3) and cities
(Table 4). This concentrated settlement has increased their in-group
sociocultural association and contacts, and enhanced the use of their
native language therein.
Chinese immigrants in the United States have not only clustered in
some states and cities, but have also resided in urban concentrations-Chinatowns-which
have formed what Kloss calls "a language island of a minority
group," i.e., a "circumscribed territory where the minority
tongue is the principal tongue used in daily conversation" (Kloss
1966:207), a factor favoring the retention of an immigrant language.
This Chinese residential pattern is of paramount importance in language
maintenance. Li's study (1982) found that Chinese residing in Chinatowns
shifted less toward English than those residing outside Chinatowns.
This is because Chinatowns, with their concentration of Chinese residents,
provide an important place for the use of Chinese. In Chinatowns,
in-group political, social, economic, and cultural interaction is
undertaken primarily with Chinese as the dominant communicative medium;
street signs and store signboards are written in both Chinese and
English; there are Chinese schools, hospitals, law firms, travel agencies,
banks, hotels, cinemas, newspapers, bookstores, restaurants, various
kinds of shops, etc. In such a self-sufficient Chinatown, which people
have described as a city transplanted from China, one can survive
from the cradle to the grave speaking only Chinese. In one sense,
the existence of Chinatowns has positive effects: they provide living
facilities and survival protection for the Chinese immigrants; and
in another sense, their existence can be seen as negative: they close
Chinese off from communication with the outside world and limit their
interethnic interaction. But no matter in what sense, Chinatowns help
the maintenance of the Chinese language because they afford communication
facilities for the use of the Chinese language.
As Chinatowns play a very important role in maintaining the Chinese
language, their growth and development help raise the status of the
language. Chinatowns in the United States date back to the 1850s.
The number of Chinatowns in the United States decreased before the
1950s (according to the U.S. Bureau of the Census, there were twenty-eight
Chinatowns in 1940 and sixteen in 1955). Since the 1950s, with the
Chinese population increasing in the United States, the surviving
Chinatowns have expanded, and new ones have started emerging. Take
New York City as an example. Built in the mid- 1850s, New York's Chinatown
has now developed into the largest in the United States. With the
great growth of the Chinese population in the past few decades, not
only has the old Chinatown in Manhattan been expanded but also two
new satellite Chinatowns are burgeoning in New York City: the new
Chinatowns in Flushing, Queens, and Sunset Park, Brooklyn. In addition
to those in New York City, new Chinatowns are also found in Chicago,
Houston, and other cities. Today, both the larger Chinatowns in New
York City and San Francisco and the smaller ones in Los Angeles, Chicago,
Seattle, Boston, and many other cities are developing. They are housing
more and more Chinese. The city of Monterey Park, a Los Angeles suburb,
has become a home to 20,000 Taiwanese immigrants, constituting one-third
of the city's total population (Hsu 1989:98). Ile Chinese population
in New York City is now estimated at about 300,000, and half of them
are living in Chinatowns. The increasing number of Chinatowns and
the growth of their populations have made the Chinese language become
more and more important in terms of in-group communication and placed
it in a better position for maintenance.
The Chinese in the United States have created "cities" within
cities and communities within communities. This concentrated residential
pattern of the Chinese Americans is one of the important reasons why
the Chinese have not lost themselves entirely within their American
surroundings after so many generations and why Chinese as a minority
language has survived for hundreds of years.
The Raising of Sociopolitical and Socioeconomic Status
The status of a minority group's language is closely related to this
group's sociopolitical and socioeconomic status. Li's study (1982)
found that the proportion of Chinese Americans maintaining Chinese
as their mother tongue is greater in populations of higher socioeconomic
status than in the lower socioeconomic population. The higher the
sociopolitical and socioeconomic status of a minority group, the greater
roles its language can play, and the higher status its language has.
This is why some groups of a higher sociopolitical and socioeconomic
status can maintain their languages as dominant languages even though
they are minorities (this is the case of many colonists' languages).
So it can be said that the sociopolitical and socioeconomic status
of a group is more important than its size for language maintenance.
'Me current maintaining trend of the Chinese language in the United
States is not only due to the increasing Chinese population in the
United States but also to their rising sociopolitical and socioeconomic
status in the past few decades.
Throughout their history in the United States, the Chinese were not
viewed positively until recently. They were often referred to as "pigtails,"
"hatchet men ... .. Oriental sick men," and 11 coolies,"
and were associated with activities such as killings and prostitution.
This negative image of the Chinese culminated in 1882, when the Chinese
Exclusion Act was passed, the first immigration legislation which
set race as a determining criterion for entry into the United States.
Although by the turn of the 20th century, Chinese had begun to enter
the professions, and in the late 1940s, the Chinese middle class began
to participate in mainstream American society, it was not until very
recently that the traditional image of the Chinese began to change,
owing to the great achievements and contributions the Chinese people
have made to the United States and to the world in the past twenty
years. Today, the Chinese in American are no longer working only as
restaurateurs, sweatshop ladies, and small storekeepers. They have
entered the professions which were formerly reserved for Americans,
such as medicine, law, architecture, higher education, judgeship,
entrepreneurship, and industry. According to the Mei-hua-min-jen-lu
1984 (Who's Who of Sino-Americans 1984), of 2,715 Chinese Americans,
83% are doctoral degree holders; 6% are master's degree holders; and
62% are in the academic field, 21% in business, 12% in the medical
field, 3% in the political realm, and 1% in law. Four Chinese Americans
won the Nobel Prize. The Chinese in America are now considered a model
minority group (Kitano and Sue 1973), and the best educated minority
ethnic group in the United States (U.S. Dept. of Commerce 1983a, 1983b;
Hsu 1989; Tsai 1989). Recently, more and more Chinese are taking important
positions in the U.S. government. Chinese in the United States are
no longer the objects but the subjects of the history of the country.
They are drawing more and more attention and interest from Americans.
To know more about the Chinese and China, more and more Americans
are studying the Chinese language (see Cohen and Baldwin 1985 survey).
Courses in Chinese studies are taught in more and more universities.
According to Brod's study (1988), the number of students enrolled
in the study of the Chinese language in higher education has been
increasing since 1968 (except 1977; Table 5). In many social domains,
both informal and formal, interethnic communication using the Chinese
language is no longer a strange phenomenon. This force of Chinese-speaking
Americans has not only strengthened but also raised the status of
the Chinese language in the United States.
The rising sociopolitical and socioeconomic status of Chinese Americans
and the rapid sociopolitical, socioeconomic, scientific and technological
developments in their home country in the past twenty years have raised
national pride in Chinese Americans. They no longer feel ashamed but
proud to be Chinese and to speak Chinese.2
The cultural characteristics of a given ethnic group constitute one
important factor in language maintenance. Chinese traditionally emphasize
collectivity. This tradition has made them, for the most part, rely
upon social organizations for their social, political, and economic
life. Kuo (1977: 10) estimated more than 150 Chinese associations
in New York City's Chinatown. These Chinese social organizations perform
various kinds of functions: helping the maintenance of order in Chinese
communities, protecting the rights and interests of Chinese Americans,
doing charitable work, providing recreational activities, organizing
religious activities, providing facilities for businesspeople, etc.
All these Chinese organizations play an important role in strengthening
Chinese in-group interaction, in which the Chinese language is used
dominantly in communication. In this way, the Chinese propensity for
an organized life has helped the maintenance of its language in the
The traditional Chinese family structure also facilitates the maintenance
of the language. Chinese families, for various reasons, are more likely
to be organized in a complex form than western families. The traditional
joint and extended families are still common among Chinese Americans
for different reasons. For example, newcomers need old-timers' financial
and emotional support; babies need care from their grandparents because
of the high cost of daycare; family enterprises need collective economic
undertakings; housing is increasingly expensive; etc. In these families,
several generations are living together. The older generations, who
usually speak only Chinese or use Chinese mainly in daily communication,
"force" the younger generations to learn Chinese in order
to communicate with them. It is a Chinese tradition for the older
generation to look after the younger generation at home. It is in
a process of child-raising that the older generation passes on its
language to the younger generation. In this way, the Chinese (extended
or complex) family serves as a primary school, in which the Chinese
language is part of the curriculum and the elders are the teachers.
That is why the native language is preserved more effectively in a
Chinese family than in a family from western culture and why Chinese
is preserved more successfully in a more complex Chinese family than
in a simpler one.
Familism is considered a peculiar product of Chinese culture. In Chinese
familism, a person is nothing but an outcast and vagabond if he is
cut off from his family. This Chinese familism has a stronger hold
on the Chinese when they are living in a foreign land thousands of
miles away from their homes. Chinese are not prone to leave their
homeland because, as the proverb goes, "at home every day fine;
abroad trouble all the time," and if for some reason they have
to leave their homeland, it is not so easy for them to be cut off
from it. They try by all means to maintain a closer tie with it and
they long for it. The idea that "falling leaves go to the roots"
has a very strong hold on older Chinese. This homeward orientation
has made Chinese more homeloving and home-bound and given them the
reputation of sojourners in the West and prevented them from complete
integration into American society. Brought up and dominated by this
familism, Chinese in the United States keep a very close tie with
their home country: they write, call, visit, and send money home frequently.
All of these activities increase the opportunities to use Chinese,
thus helping its maintenance.
An Intraethnic Marriage Pattern
The marriage pattern of an ethnic group is also an important factor
in determining its language status. A tendency toward interethnic
marriage usually causes language shift, as a result of frequent interethnic
language contact. A tendency toward intraethnic marriage can help
the maintenance of an ethnic group's language because of frequent
intraethnic communication with its language as the main communicative
medium. The Chinese in the United States belong to the latter case.
They have a stronger tendency toward intragroup marriage, due to their
different social norms and cultural values from other ethnic groups,
especially the groups of western culture.
First, the stronger tendency toward intragroup marriage among Chinese
in America is due to differences in attitudes toward sex and sexual
behavior between Chinese and Americans. To the Chinese, sex leads
to marriage, which leads to children. To Americans, sex is more a
matter of love than marriage and propagation. Chinese sexual behavior
is more situation-centered while American sexual behavior is more
individual-centered. Chinese lovers tend to avoid public showing of
intimacy and affection. This is because Chinese sociocultural norms
require individual enjoyment to be overshadowed by the social situation.
On the contrary, American sexual behavior is individualized. An American
lover enjoys complete ecstasy and exclusive affection and his emotions
can overshadow almost everything else. To the Chinese, this American
way of love seems to be licentious.
Second, Chinese familism imposes a strong influence upon the Chinese
tendency toward intraethnic marriage. Chinese familism requires that
children obey parents and individual feelings be subordinate to the
family's feelings. The traditional practice of parental arrangement
of marriage is found still persistent among Chinese Americans. Chinese
parents have strong control over the marriage affairs of their children
and want them to be married to other Chinese. This parental interference
in children's marriage affairs is especially strong among the first-generation
parents, whose marriages were more or less interfered with or arranged
by their parents. Although the third generation is not as much interfered
with as the second generation in marriage affairs, other sociocultural
differences mentioned above between Chinese and Americans also limit
their intermarriage with Americans.
Third, Chinese society is traditionally a patrilineal society, in
which women are subordinate to men.This patrilineal tradition explains
why fewer Chinese men marry American women. The Chinese man is head
of the family, and he controls almost all of the family affairs. On
the contrary, the American woman considers herself equal to her husband
and wants equal influence in family affairs. Due to this difference,
a male-chauvinist Chinese man cannot marry an "equal" American
woman because he thinks that the American woman is "too"
independent and beyond his control.
The Chinese intraethnic marriage tendency is made possible by another
factor: a tendency toward a balanced sex ratio among Chinese in the
United States. According to Fessler's study, in 1890, the male-female
ratio among Chinese in the United States was 2,688 to 100, but by
1970, this ratio changed to 110.7 to 100 (Table 6), and by 1980 it
was closer to parity (Fessler 1983:188).
The discussion above shows that interethnic cultural similarity will
facilitate the process of acculturation and language shift, while
interethnic cultural difference will hinder this process. The common
cultural background shared by European immigrants and Americans has
facilitated the latter's integration into American society, while
the different cultural backgrounds between Americans and Chinese have
made it difficult for the latter to be assimilated into, and acculturated
by, the former. This difference explains in some way why some European
languages, such as Czech, Italian, Norwegian, and Swedish, have shifted
quickly to English, while Chinese has been able to maintain itself
in the past two hundred years.
A Stronger Emphasis on Cultural Continuity and Ethnic Identity
As language is an integral part of a culture, retaining their ethnic
mother tongue is considered by the Chinese as an important medium
for maintaining their culture and marking their ethnic identity. In
achieving this, Chinese education is playing a primary role. Chinese
schooling in the United States is more than eighty years old. The
Overseas Chinese Public School in New York City was set up in 1908
and has now developed into the largest Chinese school in the United
States. With many Chinese families immigrating into the United States
in the past few decades, Chinese education has become an urgent need
for the immigrant children. To meet this need, more and more Chinese
schools have been set up in the past few years. Now it is estimated
that there are about four hundred Chinese schools in the United States
(Yang 1989:166), in which Chinese children can learn Chinese, Chinese
history, Chinese culture, and related subjects. Chinese parents want
their children to learn Chinese so that they can know more about Chinese
culture. They think that speaking Chinese is an essential mark of
being Chinese. American-born Chinese also consider learning and using
Chinese as an expression of their cultural heritage and ethnic identity.
Many of them choose Chinese as a second language in their school studies.
Most of them can understand, many can speak, quite a few can read,
and some can write, Chinese. Kloss (1977:289-290) points out: "Only
when the immigrant generation has succeeded in giving its native languages
firm roots among the grandchildren, only when the immigrant generation
has made the sacrifices for a private cultivation of the language,
only when they have taken root in the new country while retaining
their native language, can they demand that the state come to their
aid and promote their language." Chinese in America have been
making a great effort in doing so and have made great achievements
in this respect.
The changing characteristics of new immigrant Chinese also favor Chinese
language maintenance. The new immigrants in the past few decades have
received more education in their mother tongue through disciplined
Chinese language and literary studies. They came with strong and conscious
national sentiments as they possess richer knowledge of national history
and ethnic culture. These make them more conscious of cultural maintenance
and ethnic identity. Old Chinese immigrants, who, for the most part,
came from rural settings, have only a simpler feeling of the necessity
for Chinese cultural maintenance, while most of the new immigrants
not only have such a strong feeling but also put that feeling into
action. They expose their children more to Chinese culture by sending
them to Chinese school, giving them Chinese education at home, and
deliberately creating situations in which Chinese is used. All these
efforts made toward Chinese cultural maintenance have enabled the
second and subsequent generations of Chinese in America to continue
thinking of themselves in ethnic terms and to maintain positive attitudes
and strong interests with respect to the heritage of their grandparents,
which has immediate positive consequences for Chinese language maintenance.
Growth of Mass Media
The mass media are extremely functional in spreading a language and
expanding its use, and therefore are important avenues of language
Chinese newspapers published in the United States date back to the
mid- 1800s. The earliest Chinese daily newspaper was actually published
in the United States (Lo and Lai 1977). The great increase in Chinese
immigrants in the 1870s boosted Chinese journalism in America. In
1883, the first Chinese journal was established in New York City.
In 1974, there were thirteen Chinese newspapers,(three were bilingual)
published in San Francisco, eleven in New York City, and three (one
was bilingual) in Los Angeles (Lo and Lai 1977). In 1977, New York
City's Chinatown had the greatest number of Chinese journals (Lo and
Lai 1977). "In the Spring of 1981 news vendors [in New York City's
Chinatown] offered eight different Chineselanguage dailies" (Fessler
1983:259). Today, more than thirteen different Chinese newspapers
are sold in New York's Chinatown, not including the free newspapers
published by religious organizations. The Shi Jie Ri Bao (the World
Journal) is now the Chinese paper with the largest circulation in
the United States (Yang 1989). Besides newspapers, countless other
Chinese publications, such as books, magazines, and journals from
the PRC, Taiwan, and Hong Kong are sold in many bookstores. Most first-generation
Chinese immigrants depend upon Chinese newspapers and other Chinese
publications as their main news and reading sources.
In the past few decades, Chinese radio and television broadcasting
has rapidly developed. Chinese radio stations are now found in the
large cities where Chinese are concentrated, such as New York City,
San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Houston. In New York City, there are
three Chinese radio stations: the America-Canada Chinese Radio Station
covers North America, and the Voice of Overseas Chinese broadcasts
twenty-four hours a day. The Chinese radio stations in San Francisco,
Los Angeles, and Houston have established many branch stations by
In 1985 there were eleven Chinese television stations in New York
City, San Francisco, and Los Angeles. United Chinese Television in
New York City has not only local programs but also programs from Taiwan
and the PRC, providing entertainment, education, news, and advertising
in Chinese. China Night from the PRC ranks as the second most popular
program of all of the fourteen international programs on New York
City Education Television (WNYE) (Yang 1989:169). The International
Channel, which covers California, Washington State, Texas, Virginia,
Georgia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, and New York, now has fourteen hours
of Cantonese television programs each week, produced by Hong Kong-based
television broadcasts. In New York City's Manhattan Chinatown, there
are three cinemas and dozens of video movie rental stores, where Chinese
movies from the PRC, Taiwan, and Hong Kong are available.
My study shows that more than 90% of the Chinese population in New
York City has been more or less exposed to Chinese mass media. They
either read Chinese newspapers and magazines, or listen to Chinese
radio, or watch Chinese television programs. Chinese radio and television
programs and movies have played an important role in maintaining the
Chinese mother tongue among both literate and illiterate Chinese in
America. Chinese mass media not only introduce Chinese immigrants
to their new environment but also enable them to maintain ties with
their homeland, their culture, and their native language.
Change in the American Language Policy
The United States is basically an immigrant and multicultural country.
Its view of language rights and policies has been affected by its
experiences in interethnic and intercultural interactions. Its language
policy reflects not simply its educational policy but also its political
policy, which have had an immediate effect upon the status of minority
The time before the 1960s saw language discrimination against cultural
minorities. For example, Jordan (1921) proposed that English should
be the ordinary medium of communication for immigrants in homes, churches,
and newspapers, and that this should be made a condition of immigrants'
admission to U.S. citizenship. In 1943, a law was passed forbidding
foreign language study before age 10 or the end of the fourth grade
in Hawaii, where the majority of the population were non-English speakers
(Haugen 1956:108). This situation continued until the late sixties
and the early seventies, when the civil rights movement led to a gradual
acceptance by the larger society of minorities' histories and cultures
as parts of a multicultural America. This movement made great changes
in legislation, which contributed greatly to the change in the American
language policy. For example, "the 1965 Voting Rights Act and
its 1975 amendments now provide for determining that an election is
in violation of the Act and thus discriminatory if it is exclusively
in English . . . " (Macfas 1979:93). Especially important is
the 1968 Bilingual Education Act, amended in 1974 and again in 1978,
which for the first time in the United States demanded as a law that
federal funds should be allotted to the public schools for bilingual
education. It is "recognizing a social need, authorizing the
expenditure of public funds for the development of model school programs
for limited and non-English speaking students ... encouraging many
states to repeal and remove laws which prohibited the use of non-English
languages, or which mandated the exclusive use of English (Macfas
Chinese bilingual education started in public schools in San Francisco
and Los Angeles in 1969. On the East Coast, it started even earlier.
According to the Directory ofAsian and Pacific American Bilingual
Programs in June 1980, Chinese bilingual programs were found in thirtyfive
school districts in ten states and Washington, D.C., which were supported
by either local, state, or national funds.
The Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s also influenced Asian Americans
and other minority groups to demand the establishment of ethnic studies
programs in universities. In 1968 and 1969, students at San Francisco
State University and the University of California, Berkeley, went
on strike to demand the establishment of Third World programs on their
campuses. Since then, Asian American studies programs, especially
Chinese American studies programs, have been established and developed
in more and more universities. According to The College Blue Book,
in 1978 twenty-one colleges had Chinese programs and the number rose
to about fifty in 1989. The change in American language policy from
its restricting the use of minority languages to assisting their education
and use has developed Chinese education, increased the number of people
leaming and using Chinese, and thus helped its maintenance.
Li states, "As the generations have progressed, they [Chinese
Americans] have gradually lost the ability to retain their native
language.... The longer an immigrant group has lived in America, the
greater is the loss of linguistic heritage.... Chinese Americans show
the strongest inclination to forsake their heritage" (1982:114-115).
1 cannot fully agree with this statement because more than two hundred
years have passed since the Chinese started to live in this country,
and today the Chinese language is still widely used. The Spanish-speaking
and Germanspeaking groups who have lived in the United States for
centuries (the former for nearly four centuries and the latter for
more than two centuries) have also succeeded in maintaining their
languages. This study has demonstrated that many sociocultural dynamics
are propelling the trend of the maintenance of Chinese in the United
States. The underlying dynamics of its maintenance are the maintenance
of the Chinese social norms and cultural values and their rapid sociopolitical
and socioeconomic developments made both in the United States and
in their home country.
My study of New York City's Chinatowns shows that Chinese is maintaining
almost all of its functions in intraethnic social interaction. It
is used in almost all social, political, economic, and cultural activities
and in most, if not all, societal domains, such as the family, school,
church, occupation, business, etc. Ile maintenance of its functions
in all these societal domains demonstrates its maintaining, rather
than shifting, position. As language maintenance and shift in multiethnic
or multicultural communities represent, respectively, the persistence
and transition of the ethnic or cultural identities of these communities,
we can say that the cur-rent maintenance of the Chinese language represents
a persistence of Chinese culture and ethnic identity.
In conclusion, Anisman states, "If language is a form of human
behavior, and if it is indeed culturally transmitted.... why not be
prepared for linguistic as well as cultural pluralisms? It is patently
naive to state as some have done, ' . . . language and culture are
very largely lost in first and second generations. . . ' (Glazer and
Moynihan (1963:13)" (Anisman 1979:57-58).
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- End -
the author: (Published in Blilingual Review, Vol. XVII
Number 3: 195-209)
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