One myth about language and immigration in North America is that nineteenth-century immigrants typically became bilingual almost immediately after arriving, yet little systematic data has been presented for this view. We present quantitative and qualitative evidence about Germans in Wisconsin, where, into the twentieth century, many immigrants and their descendants remained monolingual, decades after immigration had ceased. Even those who claimed to speak English often had limited command. Quantitative data from the 1910 Census, augmented by qualitative evidence from newspapers, court records, literary texts, and other sources, suggest that Germans of various socioeconomic backgrounds often lacked English language skills. German continued to be the primary language in numerous Wisconsin communities, and some second- and third-generation descendants of immigrants were still monolingual as adults. Understanding this history can help inform contemporary debates about language and immigration and help dismantle the myth that successful immigrant groups of yesterday owed their prosperity to an immediate, voluntary shift to English.
Research Article|August 01 2008
“GOOD Old Immigrants of Yesteryear,” Who Didn't Learn English: Germans in Wisconsin
American Speech (2008) 83 (3): 259-283.
Miranda E. Wilkerson, Joseph Salmons; “GOOD Old Immigrants of Yesteryear,” Who Didn't Learn English: Germans in Wisconsin. American Speech 1 August 2008; 83 (3): 259–283. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/00031283-2008-020
Download citation file: