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Language Use and Linguistic Isolation: Historical Data and Methodological Issues

Paul Siegel, Elizabeth Martin, and Rosalind Bruno
Component ID: #ti95126462

Presented at the FCSM Statistical Policy Seminar, Bethesda, MD, November 8-9, 2000

Component ID: #ti1353504434

Abstract

In 1990, a non-English language was spoken in an estimated 9.6 percent of all households in theUnited States. This level has almost certainly increased substantially since 1990, because of high levels of immigration in the past decade. Household language may pose a barrier to effective administration of surveys.

In this paper, we discuss the current Census measurement of household language, English language ability, and linguistic isolation, review evidence on non-English language use, and consider the characteristics of households and areas affected by high rates of linguistic isolation. Because in recent years data on linguistic isolation have been used to target survey activity and suggested as a means of focusing social programs, we consider several related measurement issues with important pragmatic implications for potential uses of these data. Both policy and procedural uses of the concept hinge on the assumption that linguistic isolation represents a barrier to effective communication. Finally, because it is often assumed that linguistically isolated households are geographically concentrated to an extent that would justify targeting communications to those areas in other languages, we consider some evidence relevant to these issues.

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