Keep your language!

Over 97% of Americans are either immigrants or descendants of immigrants—even if some so-called conservatives don’t want to admit it. But many of us who grew up with immigrant parents or grandparents are unable to speak or read the language(s) of those parents or grandparents!

That’s unfortunate, for several reasons. Something important disappears when a family loses its original language and culture. But a recent article in the Dorchester Reporter contains some good news on this front. The article quotes Dorchester author Djofa Tavares, working with Cape Verdean students at the Russell School:

As a teacher in this neighborhood, I see a lot of my students that can’t speak to their grandparents. That’s sad. Right now, there’s a movement to keep the language alive…There are folks that have been here four generations and are now realizing the mistake of not keeping the language

There are, of course, many communities across the United States where children do learn to speak their grandparents’ language, ranging from Vietnamese kids in Dorchester to Yiddish-speaking kids in Brooklyn to Hispanic kids in almost any urban neighborhood. But the norm is still to let the ancestral language disappear.

A brief remark about my own family: My maternal grandmother was an immigrant from Russia at age 14. Although she spoke Russian and Yiddish to friends and family of her own and older generations, she was determined to speak only English to the younger generations. As a result, her daughters learned very little Yiddish and almost no Russian. Her grandchildren, including me, learned neither. That’s a cause for regret. It’s sad, as Tavares puts it.

Categories: Dorchester/Boston, Linguistics, Teaching & Learning