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Sibling Variation and Family Language Policy: The Role of Birth Order in the Spanish Proficiency and First Names of Second-Generation Latinos

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The effects of birth order have been debated in many disciplines and have been shown to be important for a number of outcomes. However, studies examining the significance of birth order in language development and practices, particularly with regard to minority languages, are few. This article reports on two sets of data collected among Spanish speakers in Chicago, each of which are used to investigate the role that birth order plays in family language policies and heritage language development. Included are an analysis of (a) the interplay between birth order and the Spanish language activities and proficiency of children in 18 families, as reported by their mothers, and (b) the child-naming choices in 54 families. Results show clear patterns both in language use and competence, and in the ethnolinguistic character of first names that correspond to a child's position in the family, pointing to evolving language policies, practices, and ideologies as immigrant families’ years in the United States accumulate. The data illustrate the relevance of birth order to the study of intragenerational discontinuities in aspects of language and identity among U.S. Latinos.
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Keywords: Spanish language; assimilation; bilingualism; birth order; family language policy; immigration; language ideology; naming practices

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: University of Illinois at Chicago,

Publication date: November 1, 2013

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