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What Is an Immigrant Language?

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  • Written By: Daniel Liden
  • Edited By: Jenn Walker
  • Last Modified Date: 10 April 2014
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    Conjecture Corporation
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A language that is spoken by an immigrant community and is not one of the official languages of a given nation is considered an "immigrant language." In some cases, members of such communities also learn the country's official language; in other cases, the immigrant community is large and isolated enough that there is no need. An immigrant language is not the same as a minority language that has been spoken for several generations in an area — a language is only considered to be an immigrant language when it has been recently introduced to a country by immigrants. There is some controversy over whether or not immigrants should be required or encouraged to learn the language of the country to which they immigrate.

In many cases, large groups of people from one culture or location find it favorable to immigrate to another nation because of various social benefits, to escape from warfare or other hardships, or for a wide range of other reasons. Such people, united by cultural and linguistic ties, often group together and form immigrant communities within the greater social structure of their new country. These communities often retain at least some of their original culture and often speak their native language together, whether or not they know the official language of the country to which they moved. Over time, as more immigrants come and the community becomes more firmly established, the immigrant language may develop into a more "official" minority language in that country.

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An immigrant language may be used for a range of different reasons. Some immigrants are too old or too busy to acquire a new language, so they simply continue to use their native tongue. In many cases, the immigrant community is so large and self-sufficient that there is no particular need for many people to acquire a new language. Many immigrants continue to use their native tongue simply because it is more comfortable for them to do so, regardless of whether or not they know the official language.

There is some discussion regarding the appropriateness of immigrating without learning and using the language of one's new country. Some argue that, because of the information-rich nature of modern life, it is necessary to speak and understand the language primarily used in one's region. Otherwise, it may be impossible for one to contribute much to society. Others argue that there is nothing wrong with maintaining an immigrant language and that immigrants are under no obligation to fully assimilate into the new culture. Such arguments are based on the notion that the right to improve one's place in the world is not dependent how one speaks, so even someone speaking an immigrant language should have the right to live and work in a new nation.

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