Heritage Languages and Bilingualism in the United States

  • Steven L. Driever
  • Nazgol Bagheri
Living reference work entry


Bilingualism is the ability to use two languages with some fluency. More Americans are bilingual than ever before, not only residing in large metropolitan areas but also widely dispersed in rural counties. Using a map that shows counties where 10% or more of the residents age five and older speak a language other than English at home, we discuss the current geographic patterns of language in the United States. Because languages within the same country interact in many situations, we review Mackey’s three concepts of geolinguistics: power, attraction, and pressure. That model helps us understand why immigrant language minorities usually shift over three generations from monolingualism in their native language to bilingualism and finally to monolingualism in English. The arrival of new immigrants, however, can reinforce a minority-language group and introduce new languages. We review the history of US bilingualism in its many ethnic varieties and the nativist reactions in favor of English. The largest bilingual community consists of English/Spanish speakers. We analyze this non-monolithic community’s increasing use of Spanglish, a liberal mixing of Spanish and American English. Emergent bilingualism among children who speak a heritage language at home requires bilingual instruction in the classroom. Three types of bilingual education programs are discussed. Although political forces have hampered bilingual education, two-way immersion programs have become popular. We close with a prognostication of the future state of bilingualism and multilingualism in the United States.


Bilingualism Ultilingualism Spanish Spanglish English language learner 


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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing AG, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of GeosciencesUniversity of MissouriKansas CityUSA
  2. 2.Department of Political Science and GeographyUniversity of Texas at San AntonioSan AntonioUSA

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