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Spanish Language Shift Reversal on the

US-Mexico Border and the Extended Third

Margarita Hidalgo
Department of Spanish and Portuguese, San Diego State University, San Diego,
CA 92182-7703, USA

Language shift reversal (LSR) is defined as a change in progress affecting Spanish

language use along the US-Mexico border and some other extended areasof the country
during the past few decades. LSR is contrasted with reversing language shift (RLS), the
result of official language policy and planning. Samples of LSR in San Diego County
are presented in connection with reactions towards bilingual education in a space
loaded with ambivalence. In this scenario, a reflectionon intercultural communication
is offered in the light of the international trade agreement with Mexico.

At present the US-Mexico border is inhabited by millions of speakers of

English and Spanish, two post-imperial languages of impeccable credentials and
literary traditions. Although little attention has been given to language contact in
this important region dividing the First World from the Third World, it is
well-established that this border is unique, for it is the only one where a fully
developed industrialised society and military and economic superpower is
found in direct juxtaposition with an ‘emergent’ nation. The world’s largest
border is ideal to examine sociolinguistic phenomena (e.g. language variation,
bilingualism, diglossia, language maintenance and language shift, language atti-
tudes, etc.) resulting from intense, multidirectional, and unequal social contacts.
In this milieu, the reversal of language shift is a plausible occurrence, given the
rapid growth of the Spanish-speaking origin population (SSOP) of the area.
Language shift reversal (LSR) is a concept advanced herein and exemplified
with data from San Diego County (SDC), the third largest city of the state of Cali-
fornia. This reversal in progress has been described in other border communities
(cf. Hidalgo, 1995; Jaramillo, 1995) which have gained a considerable proportion
of Spanish speakers over the past four decades. Some of these communities (e.g.,
El Paso, Tucson, San Diego) suffered significant population losses as a result of
the Mexico-US War (1846–1848). The most conspicuous consequence of LSR is
the use of Spanish in public domains which were formerly exclusive to English.
The small surveys conducted in SDC offer provocative data that are interpreted
in the light of the advancements of the sociology of language, in general, and
reversing language shift, in particular. In addition, this paper explores the notion
of an extended quasi-reversal in interior US communities, some of which had in
the past century a very small SSOP. Finally, the official and unofficial reactions to
the unsuspected and growing presence of Spanish speakers is examined in
connection with California Proposition 227 and the Bilingual Education Act of 1994.
In the US local, regional, and national scenario, a reflection on international and
intercultural communication is deemed necessary to close this contribution.
1470-8477/01/01 0057-19 $16.00/0 ©2001 M. Hidalgo
Language and Intercultural Communication Vol. 1, No. 1, 2001
58 Language and Intercultural Communication

The model of LSR proposed for SDC serves to advance generalisations about
trends and patterns that are being observed in border and interior communities
of an extensive region known as the United States Southwest (primarily Califor-
nia, Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, and southern Colorado), the vast area
explored by the Spanish expeditionaries since the mid-sixteenth century. In the
United States Southwest (USSW), European explorers did not find exotic civilisa-
tions or important mineral sites. The absence of wealth and native population led
to the establishment of missions and to the practice of a pastoral lifestyle that
ended with the North American explorations of the West and the occupation of
the predominantly Spanish-speaking territory. Until the mid-nineteenth
century, Spanish was the only European language spoken – alongside a few
Amerindian languages – in the scarcely populated towns and villages of the
USSW. The southwestern states belonged to the Spanish Empire until 1821,
when Mexico consummated its independence from Spain. Between 1821 and
1848, they were governed by the Mexican Republic. The war between Mexico
and the United States (1846–1848) was more than a mere battle over the enviable
territory; for this reason, it soon became a permanent conflict of race, religion and
customs (Weber, 1973: 96). In May of 1848, the US Senate ratified the Treaty of
Guadalupe-Hidalgo and settled for the third portion of the Mexican territory
which had the fewest Mexicans (Weber, 1973: 100). The history of language
conflict and languages in competition since the loss of one-half of the Mexican
territory to the United States has not been studied yet. It is however assumed that
Spanish language loss and shift have been continuous since then.
The Spanish-speaking population of the vast area acquired from Mexico
between 1845 and 1854 was about 75,000, according to most estimates:
60,000 Nuevo Mexicanos, 7,500 Californios, about the same number of
Texanos, and less than 1,000 Mexicans living around the presidios of south-
ern Arizona. These people constituted a unique new ethnic block in the
United States (…) the fact that they were guaranteed all the rights of the citi-
zens did not prevent them from becoming foreigners in their native land.
(Weber, 1973: 140–141)
The new culture of the border region partly resulted from the encounter
between the Anglo and Iberian worlds and their abysmal differences of values,
attitudes, behaviours, and languages. The construction of Anglo-Americans’
stereotypes of Mexican-Americans did not come into being in the border region
but in the US interior (Weber, 1979/1989: 300). Originating as early as 1822, they
were later exacerbated through increasing numbers of travellers, merchants and
settlers who entered northernmost Mexico after 1821. The stereotype was used
until recently to justify efforts to ‘Americanize’ Mexicans in the USSW and to
capitalise on the exploitation and poor treatment of Mexican and Mexi-
can-American workers in the fields and factories of the border region (Weber,
1979/1989: 303).
The residents of Mexican descent who remained in the region in the late nine-
teenth century and those who came from Mexico in the first half of the twentieth
century were consistently oriented towards the English language and US main-
stream values, given the pressures exerted by the mainstream culture. For about
a hundred years, Spanish language loss and language shift have been occurring
Spanish Language Shift Reversal 59

at different rates. At the same time, Spanish mother tongue maintenance of the
foreign-born population has been recorded since the early twentieth century,
when the number of speakers was merely 258,131,a figure that grew to 556,111 in
1920, reached 743,286 in 1930, and declined precipitously to 428,360 in 1940
(Fishman et al., 1984: 132) due to massive deportations during the Depression era.
Since the 1960s, however, the progressive recovery of the SSOP and the notice-
able use of the Spanish language have been observed in both the border region
and the USSW. The fact that the Spanish language has been gaining speakers
every decade for the past four decades (1960–2000) is clearly indicated in the
figures of the official US Census (see Table 1). Nonetheless, according to unoffi-
cial observers, the estimates are normally conservative and inaccurate, for those
who live in the ‘ethnic’ communities claim that many individuals of Span-
ish-speaking origin are either uncounted or undercounted.

Table 1 Growth of the Spanish-speaking origin population of the United States

Year Total Population SSOP Population
1940 132,165,129 1,861,400
1960 179,325,671 3,334,960
1970 203,210,158 7,823,583
1980 226,542,199 14,608,673
1990 248,709,873 20,425,646
1999 281,421,906 31,337,122
Sources: 1940–1970 data derived from J.A. Fishman et al. (1984) The Rise and Fall of the Ethnic Revival
(p. 132); 1980–1999 data derived from the US Bureau of the Census (1981–1982; 1992, 1999) Census
of the Population, Washington, DC.

The notion of a LSR in the border region was first advanced by both Hidalgo
(1995) and Jaramillo (1995) in reference to El Paso (Texas), Tucson (Arizona), and
San Diego (California). I compared the degree of LSR in the three border cities
and proposed that El Paso had a higher index of vitality, because it has moved
forward in the process of reversal and continues to be more advanced than either
Tucson or San Diego. Moreover, I stated that the early accommodation of the
Spanish-speaking San Diegans to the conditions imposed by English-speaking
newcomers had ‘led to the submergence of subsequent generations of Span-
ish-Mexican descent’ (Hidalgo, 1995: 42). I also asserted that, in contrast with
other borders, the process of reversal in San Diego would be longer and harder.
In spite of these difficulties, San Diego is slowly immersing itself in the cultural
and sociolinguistic dynamics of the USSW and is acquiring some of the traits
characteristic of the USSW region. For this reason, SDC is proposed as a model of
parsimonious LSR. If this reversal continues to advance, it can be predicted that
other communities (borders, USSW communities, and extended communities of
the US interior) will move, too, in the same direction.
At present, the Anglo/Mexican population ratio varies considerably from
community to community across the USSW area. By the same token, the saliency
of Spanish language and ethnicity varies according to traditions established by
60 Language and Intercultural Communication

both groups since the mid-19th century, when the whole USSW region was
entirely monolingual in Spanish and Mexican mono-ethnic. The arrival of
Anglo-Americans changed the profile of the border and USSW communities
giving rise to Spanish/English contact for the first generations of Anglos and
Mexicans. It is assumed that the second generation of Anglo-Americans was
bilingual, and that the early Mexican-Anglo contacts in most communities was
distinguished by elite intermarriages. As Anglo-American groups increased in
number of individuals and the control of the communities was almost exclu-
sively in the hands of speakers of English, English became the general language
of communication throughout the twentieth century; so strong was the influence
of English and the wave of Anglicisation that Mexican-Americans turned out to
be extremely anglicised and acculturated. This is the noticeable trend in the
pre-and post-World War II decades (Hidalgo, 1995: 36).
The current conflicts of the border region may differ from those experienced a
hundred years ago. Because of the profound demographic transformationsof the
past 40 years, the border region is no longer the periphery where the demarcation
of two disparate nation-states was imposed. This is not to imply that all the
qualms about the area are forgone, but only that the demographic, industrial,
commercial, and agricultural activities are better integrated into the economic
and political spheres of both countries. It is important to add, nonetheless, that
the border region, or the ‘taboo region’, as I labelled it (Hidalgo, 1995) has always
been dependent on not one but on two hegemonic systems: Mexico and the
United States. The conglomerate of people of Mexican descent inhabiting the
marked area have become a unique regional social system where family struc-
ture, culture, social interaction and factors of production were fused across the
boundary. The most important by-product has been the bicultural transfrontier
interdependent metropolis.

The Extension of the Border or the ‘Third Space’

The extended border is at present more undetermined and unspecified than
the border region per se. However, the extended border is found beyond the
USSW, as revealed by the official estimates of the US Bureau of the Census (July,
1999). The ranking by Hispanic population shows that nine states (five of them in
the USSW) comprise a total of 26,199,843 people of the total of 31,183,515
recorded in 1999. Moreover, the second 17 states ranked in 1999 have a SSOP
ranging from almost 400,000 to slightly more than 100,000. The combined popu-
lation of these 17 states reaches 3,961,642 individuals of SSOP (see Appendix A).
These glaring figures may be sufficient to claim that LSR is an ongoing change
that can be observed in border communities per se, interior communities of the
USSW, and even those that are outside the USSW region. The LSR scenario at the
national level assumes the active participation of millions of individuals of Span-
ish-speaking origin, the majority of whom reside in large urban centres of the
country. In almost all of these centres, Spanish is currently heard, spoken, and
even written in both private and public domains. The specific contexts of New
York, Philadelphia, Chicago, Detroit, Hartford or Las Vegas in which Spanish is
used may be singled out as the extended border or third space. Because the
US-Mexico border is incessantly moving northward, migration from Mexico
Spanish Language Shift Reversal 61

begins to reach areas formerly unpopulated by individuals of Mexican descent

and others from the Caribbean region, and Central and South America. Individ-
uals from south of the border carry with them two major cultural and closely
related components: language and ethnicity. Language (Spanish) and ethnicity
(Mexican for those communities of high Mexican density or Hispanic for mixed
communities) are phenomena that stand out in most places as being anomalous
or disruptive. The saliency of Spanish language and ethnicity increases or
decreases according to various external factors: greater distance from Mexico or
from the country of origin of the speakers, ratio of inhabitants of Anglo and
Hispanic descent, date or primacy of settlements of the SSOP, and economic
development. The conflictive nature of social contacts in communities inhabited
by Spanish-speaking people is historically linked to the peripheral nature and
markedness of the Spanish-speaking world, which is mostly distinguished by
underdevelopment and racial mixture. The extended border has acquired some
of the features of the US-Mexico border, for language and ethnicity have become
salient characteristics that help maintain boundaries and limits; the degree of
saliency and separateness in the extended border varies from community to
community. In all the US cities in which there are speakers of Spanish-speaking
origin, however, the marked language is Spanish and the marked ethnicity is
Mexican, Hispanic or Latino.

Description of Societal Bilingualism

In the border region, the USSW and other interior communities in which Span-
ish speakers have been established for at least two generations, bilingualism can
be experienced in a continuum that begins with Spanish monolingualism in the
first generation; Spanish/English bilingualism is usually the norm for the second
generation, and at times even for the third generation, whereas English
monolingualism is attained in the third or fourth generations, as illustrated in
Figure 1 (Hidalgo, 1993c: 14). The bilingual continuum can be observed primar-
ily in urban settings of any size (e.g., San Antonio, Austin, Houston (Texas),
Tucson, Phoenix (Arizona), Albuquerque (New Mexico), Los Angeles, Santa Ana
(California), but also in small cities, towns, and even rural areas where the shift to
English is normally predictable. In the rural settings and communities adjacent
to the Mexican border, the shift to English may occur until the fourth generation;
also, select individuals or groups of individuals may experience a shift reversal
in their adult life. Finally, communities that are considerably distant from the
country of ancestry or those which do not experience the replenishment of the
SSOP on an intergenerational basis may undergo a language shift in the second
The US-Mexico border can be considered an area of stable bilingualism, given
that there exist sufficient numbers of speakers of both languages so as to
constantly foster language contact, diglossia, and bilingualism, which are not
exclusive to the border region per se, but have been present in other USSW
communities for several generations. At times newcomers fail to adjust to the
new USSW culture because they feel they are, or they are indeed, rejected by
members of the majority culture. Others assume a diametrically opposite atti-
tude and adjust promptly: their rapid assimilation is simultaneous to the aban-
62 Language and Intercultural Communication

Monolingual Bilingual Monolingual

Spanish Spanish & English English
First generation Second and third Third and fourth
generations generations

Figure 1 Bilingual continuum in USSW communities

donment of many traits of the original culture, including language. Between the
two extremes there can be found groups and individuals who are both bilingual
and bicultural to varying degrees; some maintain the two languages and cultures
separate; others are bilingual but mono-cultural in the USSW culture; still others
are acquainted with the two cultures but do not blend them or practice noticeable
behaviour shifts. The vast majority of bilinguals of the USSW and some of the
interior communities, however, participate actively in styles of communication
such as lexical borrowings from English, structural interference from English
into Spanish, and Spanish/English code-switching, inasmuch as these speech
styles have become an integral part of the linguistic repertoire of the bilingual
communities. Needless to say, newcomers are often surprised, annoyed, and
even shocked to hear the abundant borrowing, interference, and inter- and
intra-sentential code-switching. The latter speech style has become thus far the
typical practice among bilinguals inhabiting both rural and urban settings. These
styles of communication are the result of language contact and intense and
unregulated bilingualism, which sometimes lead to a language breakdown with
all-Spanish or all-English monolingual speakers, but particularly with monolin-
gual Mexican or Latin American nationals, who in spite of their eagerness to
learn English, claim to reject the Hispanic bilingual of the USSW or other interior
communities. In the face of the disparagement of bilingual modes and speech
styles, when they move north, Mexican and other Latin American nationals end
up acquiring precisely those styles of communication of the US Hispanics inhab-
iting the USSW or the intensely bilingual cities of the country (e.g. Miami or New
York). The model described is applicable, too, to the extended border, and can be
observed in Chicago, Denver, or any other place in which there can be found
sufficient bilinguals interacting with one another.

Language Shift Reversal

As the US-Mexico border becomes more central in the national agenda of both
the United States and Mexico, the marked language gains space in different
domains. The growing use of Spanish in the border proper, the USSW, and the
extended border can be defined as LSR, a conspicuous phenomenon ensuing
over the past 40 years in the most populated urban areas of the country. This
reversal is not the result of an induced change, an intentional conscious occur-
rence stemming from a social or political agenda (cf. Fishman, 1991). Spanish
LSR is precisely the opposite of reversing language shift (RLS); the latter is
derived from the collective efforts of individuals, groups of individuals or insti-
Spanish Language Shift Reversal 63

tutions acting to defend, protect or regulate the use of endangered languages.

Such endeavours have been successful in different parts of the world (e.g.
Quebec, Catalonia, the Basque country and Israel, among others). In these areas,
the reversal of the disadvantageous conditions surrounding the threatened
language – usually a minority language – is the desired outcome of RLS, while
the restoration of conditions favourable to the neglected language is the direct
consequence of sociolinguistic activism or militancy.
In contrast, the Spanish LSR observed in the United States does not meet the
prerequisites needed to categorise this change in progress as RLS, inasmuch as
RLS is by definition an active enterprise supported, funded, or strengthened by
local, regional, or national institutions. The quintessential case of such successful
practice is found in Quebec. Spanish LSR, as observed in the continental United
States, is not the result of an induced change and is neither supported nor
financed by agencies or institutions. LSR is rather the unintentional repercussion
of immigration, population growth, consumer demands for goods and services
in the ancestral language, and the ready response to these demands on the part of
providers of goods and services. Against the definition of LSR, scholars may
argue that not all the individuals who report Hispanic ancestry are fluent Span-
ish speakers (e.g. Fishman & Milán, 1983; Fishman et al., 1984; Solé, 1985; Bills et
al., 1995). While this assumption is incontrovertible, it is also indisputable that
varying proportions of foreign-born and even US-born individuals do use Span-
ish at home and other domains. Thus, in spite of the fact that some individuals or
groups of individuals shift to English in the course of their lifetime, the sheer
numbers of active speakers is sufficient to maintain the language with high ratios
of vitality. And whereas it is also accurate that Spanish has been mostly used in
the domestic sphere, it is nowadays more certain that Spanish is ubiquitous in
those areas where there are plenty of speakers who need to communicate with
one another for different purposes (e.g. personal and business) and through
different means (e.g. printed and electronic media). The growing number of
speakers who use Spanish outside the home domain are the sine qua non condi-
tions for LSR.
In so far as this scheme is both discontinuous and spontaneous, in the eyes of
out-group members, LSR is less desirable than RLS. Whereas RLS is more closely
regulated and controlled by individuals and institutions, LSR is unregulated and
unrestricted. The stages followed by RLS (see Appendix B) are, to an extent,
connected and consecutive. In contrast, the stages of LSR may be disconnected,
random, and at times unpredictable (Hidalgo, 1998).
The RLS typology proposed by Fishman (1991: 81) implies an active social
policy to interfere with or intervene to counteract the predictable course of events
‘because that course would result in consequences that are consensually viewed
as undesirable’. The value positions justifying RLS status planning have to do
with a positive popular sentiment and support; with the protection of majority
rights; with the perceived benefit of stable bilingualism for outsiders and insid-
ers and the concomitant need for internal and external boundaries. Finally, the
positive attitudes of the collectivity lead to the selection of priorities and efforts to
reverse language shift in function of culturally relevant choices that ultimately
promote intergenerational language use and reasonable chances of success.
The RLS model is complete, consistent and coherent; in the United States,
64 Language and Intercultural Communication

however, the main process, i.e. active reversing, does not flow easily through
each of the stages proposed in the model. Scholars are sceptical about the poten-
tial of Spanish to reach the most important stages of the proposed scale (espe-
cially 1 and 2), primarily because they perceive the major damage inflicted upon
Spanish-speaking communities in Stages 6 through 4 (see Appendix B). Never-
theless, the constant flow of immigrants from Spanish language background has
made such reversal a reality. This new reality must be looked into under a differ-
ent light. We need to resort to the traditionally used quantitative models but also
have to appraise qualitative aspects of Spanish-speaking communities that have
been ignored so far. Students of language maintenance and shift primarily
observe the attrition rates throughout the decades, and whereas it is observed
that language shift, too, is a continuous process, both language maintenance and
LSR coexist at least in some communities. In the USSW, we observe that Spanish
begins to move back into prominent use. Not only the absolute and relative
numbers of the speakers increase every five or ten years, but the number of
public and private services increase as well. The US Spanish-speaking communi-
ties can belong in Stage 8 like the Brule speakers of Lousiana (cf. Holloway, 1997).
Others seem to fluctuate unsteadily between Stages 6 and 2, like El Paso or
Laredo, Texas (cf. Hidalgo, 1995). In addition, in those communities where Span-
ish stands out, a discordant trend is observed, for the endeavours to reverse
language shift are neither fully planned nor fully official. In some cases they are
unplanned and unofficial.

Sociolinguistic Models of Language Shift Reversal

The dynamics of language maintenance and vitality, language shift and LSR
have been addressed by Jaramillo (1995) with respect to what the author identi-
fied as a quasi-border. Standing alone as a model of macrosociolinguistic vari-
ables that either inhibit or enhance Spanish language maintenance, the study of
Tucson (Arizona) highlights the contributory factors impinging on the initial
stages of a LSR: size and density of the Mexican-American population, relative
socioeconomic subordination and distance from the mainstream; market value
and status of Spanish in the wider community; and presence of Spanish in the
public sector, a phenomenon that may signal a reversed diglossia in progress.
The passive legitimisation of Spanish in the quasi-border is validated due to its
growing use in public spheres (e.g. religion, ethnic organisations, media and the
The numerous communities where the presence of Mexican-Americans is
apparent have not been researched yet, but there is sufficient information on the
patterns of language use and language attitudes (cf. Hidalgo, 1993b). In this
respect, the community studied by Jaramillo (1995) is a ‘hybrid’, inasmuch as it
has features of true borders, as defined by Hidalgo (1993b and 1995) and south-
western communities. In addition to the model proposed for Tucson, the data
gathered in the 1990s shows that LSR is occurring in the wealthiest and one of the
trendiest US borders. The case of SDC is introduced herein in the light of new
developments in the international arena such as the North American Free Trade
Agreement (NAFTA), which was identified as a potential contributory factor in
the revitalisation of Spanish in Arizona (Jaramillo, 1995: 84).
Spanish Language Shift Reversal 65

As compared to other USSW cities, the SSOP of SDC has grown slowly; the
progression of loss and recovery between 1850 and 1999 is shown in Table 2. In
1860, the SSOP was only 28%; in 1870, the total was 41%, whereas 40% was
Anglo-American; in 1880, the former population declined to 8.5%. The virtual
disappearance of the SSOP seemed to have occurred at the beginning of the
twentieth century, when it merely reached between 3.6% and 5%. However,
since 1960 it has increased steadily (from 6.3% to 8.2% in 1970); the most signifi-
cant gains can be observed in 1980 and 1990 with a total of 14.8 and 20.4%, respec-
tively. Other sources clearly indicate that between 1996 and 2000, the SSOP
reached a quarter of the total population of the county. Finally, according to the
1990 census, 72.4% of the SSOP over five years claim to speak Spanish at home. In
sum, at present more than one-half million people of Spanish-speaking origin
reside in San Diego; of these, the vast majority (or 87%) are of Mexican descent
(US Bureau of the Census, 1990; Hidalgo, 1995; San Diego Association of Govern-
ments, 1997, 1999, 2000).
Table 2 The total and SSOP of San Diego County (1850–1999)
Year Total population SSOP % SSOP
1850 798 -
1860 4,324 1,211 28.0
1880 8,618 733 8.5
1900 35,090 1,263 3.6
1930 209,659 10,483 5.0
1960 556,808 35,079 6.3
1970 1,357,854 112,820 8.2
1980 1,861.846 275,177 14.8
1990 2,498,016 510,781 20.4
1996 2,690,255 619,638 23.0
1997 2,724,437 642,772 23.6
1998 2,794,785 670,761 24.0
1999 2,911,468 722,377 25.0
Sources: 1850-1990 data derived from State of California, Department of Finance (1998)
1996–1999 date derived from San Diego Association of Governments (1997, 1999, 2000) San Diego.

The proportion of SSOP speakers in SDC (by jurisdiction) shows that the
communities adjacent to Mexico have a higher density of Spanish speakers, to
wit: National City, 49.6%; Chula Vista, 37.3%; Imperial Beach, 28.3%. Northern
communities follow southern areas in the proportion of Spanish-speaking
people: San Marcos, 27.5%; Vista, 24.8%; Escondido, 23.4%; Oceanside, 22.6%.
Central areas such as San Diego proper and Lemon Grove follow with 20.7 and
19.9%, respectively. Other ethnic languages with significant numbers of speak-
ers in SDC are Tagalog, Vietnamese, Chinese, German, Japanese, French and Ital-
ian. The total number of speakers of the 23 ethnic languages spoken in 1990 was
207,643. But by far the most spoken ‘ethnic’ language of SDC is Spanish with 64%
of all the speakers of other-than-English languages (San Diego Association of
Governments, 1997).
66 Language and Intercultural Communication

Private and Public Domains of Interaction

The hypothesis proposing that use of Spanish in public domains signals a
trend of reversed diglossia and therefore passive acceptance of Spanish (cf.
Jaramillo, 1995) is tested in SDC among various groups of individuals, agencies,
and private and public domains.
(1) The results of a small survey conducted in 1991–1992 (cf. Hidalgo, 1993a)
show the patterns of Spanish language use and attitudes of 158 bilingual
students from all over the county (mostly between 11 and 20 years of age).
These Subjects (Ss) displayed positive attitudes toward Spanish in the
instrumental, integrative, and personal/developmental dimensions. The
patterns of intergenerational language choice are similar to those reported
in other communities where bilingualism prevails. In the family, Spanish is
used with parents and grandparents, whereas English is used with siblings.
In the community, English is more prevalent than Spanish, but Spanish
stands on an almost equal footing with English in more interpersonal (e.g.
friends and acquaintances) and societal domains (e.g. spoken and printed
media). Ss claimed to prefer to be educated in the two languages and to want
the same for their children. In addition, the responses to self-rated profi-
ciency in Spanish are likewise balanced on the scale from 0 to 5 (0 being none
and 5 being native). The Ss ranked themselves as advanced (although not
native superior) speakers of the two languages. Finally, when choosing the
subjunctive mood in context-bound sentences, the Ss selected the correct
response in a little over half of the cases.
(2) With the population growth and increased Spanish use, services are either
demanded or offered by public or private agencies. In various cities, we
have observed the increment of Spanish speakers both as the regular clien-
tele and the service crew. Thus far, we have surveyed San Ysidro, Chula
Vista, San Diego, Del Mar and Encinitas. In the shopping centres, hotels,
restaurants, hospitals, and medical centres of the above mentioned cities, Ss
have reported an observed increase of services in Spanish in the past 15, 20
or 25 years. In the cities adjacent to Mexico (San Ysidro and Chula Vista), the
reported increment is about 50%. In cities that are distant from the border
(e.g. Del Mar and Encinitas) and the city of San Diego proper, the reported
increase is from 20 to 25%.1
(3) The most dramatic change has occurred in the domain of religion, which
was all-Spanish until the mid-19th century. After the Mexico-US War, only a
few Catholic churches held mass in Spanish. In 1992, we found 25 parishes
offering services in Spanish. By 1996, we counted 98 Catholic churches in the
county. Of these, 47 offered numerous services in Spanish and 12 of them in
other foreign languages. The demand for mass in Spanish is due to the fact
that 27.1% of all registered Catholics are of Mexican or Hispanic ancestry.
The proportion of Anglo-American Catholics is 59.7%. In addition, we
found that eight out of ten churches offered three masses or more in Spanish
per week, but all ten churches offered catechism in Spanish for all age
groups. One church offered mass with mariachi music (typical band from the
state of Jalisco) in both English and Spanish. The churches had one or two
bilingual priests who were in charge of all the Spanish services. Nine of the
Spanish Language Shift Reversal 67

churches served in funerals, weddings, confirmation and Easter Sunday

mass. The farther south we surveyed the churches, the more services were
reported. Another small survey conducted in 1997 among 30 subjects resid-
ing in San Ysidro and Chula Vista helped us establish the hypothesis of a
close connection between language, ethnicity and religion. It seems that
those subjects who attend mass in Spanish are not only fluent in Spanish but
have a stronger Mexican or Hispanic identity. The churches from southern
communities offered four masses every Sunday, one every Saturday, and
one daily in 1997. Since 1991 there has been an increment of 90% of religious
services in Spanish and 100% increment in the Spanish masses attended by
the public because they are offered in Spanish. Some of the parishioners
come from across the border, a factor that enhances both the quantity and
quality of Spanish used in the Catholic church of the southern cities of SDC.
Finally, in 1991 there were 150 Spanish speakers who received the Holy
Communion in Spanish. By 1996, there were 500 Spanish speakers initiated
in the Holy Communion, which represents an increase of 300%.
(4) Spanish speakers also engage in mundane activities such as disco dancing,
movies, plays, and consumption of Spanish music. Surveyed in 1997, 50
freshmen and sophomore students at San Diego State University, reported
that in their junior high and/or high school years, they used to listen to pop
music and rock-and-roll music in English. As they begin to interact with
other Hispanic students when they enter college, a reversal seems to take
place. In addition, Ss reported that between 18 and 23 years of age, they
begin to consume not only Spanish rock-and-roll music (from both the US
and Latin America), but also traditional folk music (‘rancheras’), traditional
and contemporary ballads (‘boleros románticos’), contemporary vernacular
(‘quebradita’, ‘salsa’), and traditional regional music (‘merengue’, ‘cumbia’).
Moreover, since the early 1990s Spanish rock-and-roll music is being
recorded in San Diego, because music companies perceive the potential of
the youth market. About 50% of the Hispanic population of the county is
below 24 years of age.
(5) The next drastic change is observed in the courts and the legal system in
general, which used English exclusively between 1860 and 1960. The
services of translators and interpreters in the local courts have increased
since the early 1960s. In the San Diego Municipal Court we found out that
there was only one interpreter in 1961; in 1995, there were 12. In 1964 in the
North County Municipal Court, there was also only one interpreter; in 1995,
there were eight.
(6) Spanish book collections in the public libraries have grown with the
demands over the last 40 years. The oldest collection of Spanish books
started in 1960. By 1981, the total combined number of Spanish volumes for
the library systems in Chula Vista, Coronado, Escondido, San Diego City
and San Diego County was 39,815. In 1996, the number increased to 137,028
in the City of San Diego Library, which has a total of 2,452,000 volumes. The
branches with the most volumes are San Ysidro (20%), Logan Heights (17%),
Chula Vista (12%) and Otay Mesa (10%).
(7) The use of Spanish in education is less conspicuous. In elementary schools
we found transitional bilingual programmes (e.g. Logan Elementary School
68 Language and Intercultural Communication

with an enrolment of 1040, 88.4% of whom are bilingual). Most subjects are
taught in English, but Language Arts and Writing are taught in Spanish. In
the immersion biliterate model (e.g. Hall District Elementary School), Span-
ish is taught three days per week. Bilingual immersion is based on the
concept that a second language is best acquired in a natural setting. In a
pre-school setting children are taught in their native language. In the
Language Immersion Model (e.g. Horton Elementary School), children are
taught entirely in Spanish (or French). A very recent development in SDC is
the promotion of a programme of English/Spanish biliteracy from K
through 12 (Magee, 1999a and b), which is in consonance with the Bilingual
Education Act of 1994 (cf. Crawford, 1997b).
(8) In the past ten years, San Diego State University and several two-year
colleges (known as junior community colleges) have implemented inde-
pendent ‘tracks’ or mini-programmes of Spanish for US Hispanics. The new
programmes focus on traditional grammar, reading (with an emphasis on
the Latin American classics), and writing. Speakers of local and/or regional
dialects are exposed to the written supraregional and/or international vari-
ety of New World Spanish, but the respect and appreciation for US Spanish
are promoted (cf. Hidalgo, 1996). This option is based on the restoration
approach, whose purpose is to recondition and repair the structures of
languages which have been negatively affected by disadvantageous societal
factors. (Several mini-tracks and programmes of Spanish for heritage speak-
ers are now available in dozens of US colleges and universities). The
purpose of the restoration approach is to lead speakers of regional dialects
and local vernaculars in the direction of accepted national or international
standards. This is one of the several strategies of bilingual education imple-
mented with the intention of reversing language shift (Hidalgo, 1999).

Public Reactions to Hispanic Population Growth

Some of the most boisterous reactions towards the growing numbers of Span-
ish-speaking people have been raised in the past two decades. First, the oppo-
nents to bilingualism spearheaded a successful campaign for official-English
legislation. The U.S. English-Only movement measures were adopted by
twenty-three states. Second, in 1996, a group of citizens residing in southern Cali-
fornia promoted a statewide ballot initiative known as Proposition 227 requiring
that all children in public schools be taught only in English. The measure passed
overwhelmingly on 2 June 1998, and virtually outlawed bilingual education in
California (Crawford, 1997a). Although the tenets of these movements are not
readily implemented or enforced, the public support for them only shows the
prevailing sentiment to invalidate or discourage the use of Spanish in public
domains. The advocates of the U.S. English-Only movement and Proposition 227
are normally better informed about the general trends and/or findings of the
U.S. and state governments, which routinely release statements on immigration
or educational policies. A few years before Proposition 227 was formulated, the
percentage change of the population of California which claimed to speak Span-
ish between 1970 and 1990 was well known. In the eyes of some people, the
following figures were alarming: The 2,150,600 individuals who claimed to
Spanish Language Shift Reversal 69

speak Spanish in 1970 (or 10.8% of the total population) increased to 3,132,690(or
18.4% of the total) in 1980, and to 5,478,712 (or 22% of the total) in 1990 (State of
California, Department of Finance, 1998).
Despite the antagonism of some sectors of the US society, the official position
of the federal government seems to be the subtle endorsement of continued
immigration from Spanish-speaking countries and the multilingual education of
heritage speakers of any language and national background. The Bilingual Educa-
tion Act of 1994 (BEA) is clearly supportive of societal multilingualism and multi-
culturalism, on the one hand, and academic bilingualism, on the other
(Crawford, 1997b). Operating under the principle of globalisation, recently
implemented programmes of bilingual education – known as two-way or dual
immersion – are giving an opportunity to both heritage speakers and native
speakers of English to be exposed to each other’s language and culture. The
programs are known for improving social relations, cross-cultural understand-
ing, and academic achievement (Christian, 1994). The two-way immersion
programmes and the BEA of 1994 are somehow related to the reactions to LSR in
the USSW, given that the dual immersion programmes are indirectly supportive
of language maintenance, biliteracy, and cross-cultural understanding.
In contrast, the official endorsement of immigration patterns is revealed in the
forecasts about the massive growth of the SSOP of the United States. A statistical
brief released by the Bureau of the Census in 1995 asserted that ‘The rapid growth
of the Hispanic population in the early 1990s was a continuation of the trend of
the previous 20 years’. The projected increase to 31 million people in the year
2000 was accurate, whereas the projections of 63 million in 2030 and 88 million in
2050 remain to be seen. According to this report, by the mid-twenty-first century,
nearly one in four Americans may be Hispanic (US Bureau of the Census, 1995).

Redefining the Roles of Languages (and Cultures) in the Global

In future decades, US educators, scholars and politicians will be confronted
with the latent controversial problems that have been partially addressed in the
twentieth century. The promotion of English in a global community represents a
dual agenda: the first part of the agenda is the crystalisation of the Anglophone
supremacy after World War II; the second one may endorse the use of other
languages; some of them are the domestic languages spoken in the United States,
which often are the same ones that are used as national languages in the countries
of origin of the immigrants.
In the United States the position of the Spanish-speaking people is that of a
minority, both quantitatively and qualitatively. The presence of other minority
groups does not help to divert the attention of the majority from the conspicuous-
ness of Spanish-speaking individuals. On the contrary, in recent times the Span-
ish-speaking masses continue being the object of derision which is now a part of
the collective consciousness of the Anglophone majority. The question to be
raised at this juncture is whether the international trade agreement with Mexico
will help reverse the deleterious conditions described above or whether it will
exacerbate them to the point of friction and strife. In theory, a trade agreement
should minimise conflict and promote harmony. If so, in the United States, Span-
70 Language and Intercultural Communication

ish should undergo a profound re-evaluation which ideally will be conducive to

change its users’ relationship with it (Hidalgo, 1994). LSR is potentially condu-
cive to a reversal of the symbolic relations of power and of the hierarchy of the
values placed on the competing languages. The legitimisation of the marked
language will lead speakers to perceive the new political and economic advan-
tages. In an ideal world, international trade enhances positive attitudes towards
multiculturalism and multicultural education for the speakers involved in the
parternship. The assessment of the issue, however, does not necessarily lie in the
disciplines that study language(s), but in those that study the relations of power
within and between nations. The position of the United States as the superpower
and its economic and cultural dissimilarities with Mexico make the latter a
vulnerable and fragile partner. In spite of the strong commercial ties between
Mexico and the United States, the relationship between them is unequal and
asymmetrical. In order to undertake a mutual enterprise, speakers of imperial
languages have to redefine their roles; otherwise, they are going to lose credibil-
ity in the eyes of the masses they are to convince of their own ideology (Hidalgo,
In the era of globalisation, nations and individuals believe that a knowledge of
English is one of the keys to a more prosperous life. Indeed, there is sufficient
evidence that Mexicans have invested personal resources in the acquisition and
learning of English after World War II (Hidalgo et al., 1996). Their agenda of bilin-
gualism is not complete, but is permanently in progress, inasmuch as Mexicans
are continually becoming bilingual. The belief that English is a valuable asset
because it is one of the languages of the global community is strong, and it is
reflected in the paid advertisement of English courses in major Mexican televi-
sion networks. This attitude is coupled with the promotion of English for educa-
tional purposes in the recent campaigns for the Presidency of Mexico. Such novel
developments are not only stunning but unprecedented. The evidence indicat-
ing that Mexicans and Mexican Americans have been espousing the cause of
bilingualism is overwhelming.
Finally, those who inhabit the border regions have also been constructing new
identities in reaction to external pressures and processes of exclusion and
construction of otherness in a complex scenario, a dynamic third space created
by the continuous transnational circulation of people (Gutiérrez, 1999). The
cultural traits of the ‘new’ social site are gauged by the groups that are directly or
indirectly affected by the mere existence of the third space, which is perceived as
being ambiguous because the hegemonic groups have made it ambiguous. This
ascribed ambiguity is in itself an impediment to access the cultural beliefs of the
other groups. Whereas the completion of language acquisition and language
learning on the part of all groups is beyond question, the understanding of
culture and identity is disputable. The type of vernacular bilingualism spontane-
ously generated in the area (described at the onset of this paper) is not the chal-
lenge to cross-cultural or multicultural understanding, nor is it the
unimaginative programme of biliteracy advanced by the Anglophone majority.
The first step of the real challenge is to move from bilingualism and biliteracy to
biculturalism through the teaching of culture and the learning of culture before
even attempting to teach or learn the target language. The second step in a
programme of bilingualism and biculturalism should be the discussion of stereo-
Spanish Language Shift Reversal 71

types with the purpose of attenuating them, if not eliminating them. The final
step should be the inclusion of native speakers of the groups in conflict in the
same programme of ‘foreign’ language learning. The implementation of bilin-
gual, biliterate and bicultural policies for all of those concerned should help to
ease the anxieties and fears generated in regions where ancestral frictions
become unsurmountable barriers to effective communication. The patterns of
bilingualism and attitudes towards speakers of languages of the region are
currently extending to the US interior due, in part, to the NAFTA. In this way, the
US interior is beginning to display traits that used to be exclusive to the US
Obliterating cultural barriers as though they were trade barriers will become
the most onerous task of partners that have worked for 150 years under basic
principles of inequality. In anticipation of the millions of Spanish speakers that
are going to live, work, and receive education in the United States in the course of
the twenty-first century, the English-speaking superpower and major leader of
globalisation will have to put to a test an unprecedented exercise in cultural
democracy by opening public spaces to the Spanish language. This will convert
LSR into RLS (stages 3 through 1). In sum, the declaration that former President
Clinton made on 20 October 1994, will be challenged by the many millions of
Spanish speakers expected in US soil in the next five decades. ‘No other country
[but the United States] is so well-positioned to move into the twenty-first century
to live in a global society that is more peaceful and more secure – no one’ (Presi-
dent Clinton, cited in Crawford, 1997b: 3).

Any correspondence should be directed to Professor Margarita Hidalgo,
Department of Spanish and Portuguese, San Diego State University, San Diego,
CA 92182-7703, USA (

1. The students who participated in the fieldwork reported in 2–7 were the following:
(2) Amy Bryant and Delia de Anda; (3) Matthew Mercado and Oscar Padilla;
(4) Héctor Ortega and John Cox; (5) Marcos Sotelo and Rosa Delia González; (6) Brian
Deyo; (7) Luz María Peña.

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74 Language and Intercultural Communication

Appendix A: States Ranked by Hispanic Population (1999)

State Estimated Hispanic Change (1990-1999)
population %
1. California 10,459,616 35.8
2. Texas 6,045,430 39.3
3. New York 2,660,685 20.2
4. Florida 2,334,403 48.3
5. Illinois 1,276,193 41.1
6. Arizona 1,084,250 57.5
7. New Jersey 1,027,277 37.4
8. New Mexico 708,407 22.3
9. Colorado 603,582 42.3
Total 26,199,843
10. Massachusetts 390,947 36.0
11. Washington 376,664 75.5
12. Pennsylvania 326,218 40.4
13. Nevada 304,364 144.6
14. Connecticut 279,164 31.0
15. Michigan 275,849 36.8
16. Virginia 266,228 66.0
17. Georgia 239,566 119.9
18. Oregon 212,870 88.9
19. Maryland 199,156 59.2
20. Ohio 184,902 32.4
21. N. Carolina 175,707 128.9
22. Indiana 153,960 55.8
23. Utah 150,699 78.1
24. Kansas 148,479 58.808
25. Wisconsin 140,235 50.4
26. Oklahoma 136,634 58.6
Total 3,961,642

Appendix B
The Graded Intergenerational Disruption Scale (GIDS) implies that the socio-
economic space of a speech community has been disrupted to different degrees.
Therefore, the higher the rating assigned on the scale, the lower the
intergenerational continuity and maintenance prospects of a network or commu-
nity. This model can be examined in eight stages.
(8) There are vestigial users of the ethnic language and are socially isolated. The
structures of the minority language (ML) are so deteriorated that have to be
re-assembled from the mouths and memories of the speakers.
(7) Users of the ML are a socially integrated and ethnolinguistically active but
the adult population can no longer contribute demographically to the
number of ML users, because they are beyond child-bearing age.
Spanish Language Shift Reversal 75

(6) The ML is the normal language of informal, spoken interaction between and
within all three generations, with the majority language being reserved for
matters of greater formality. The family, the neighbourhood, and the
community are the core of this stage.
(5) Institutions and public agencies are preoccupied with the protection of the
oral realisation of the ML by providing it with a modicum of literacy, since
this facilitates inter-individual and inter-network communication and goal
attainment. It is the most difficult phase of reversing language shift.
(4) The ML is used as a co-medium in those schools attended by minority chil-
dren; the ML is funded and self-supported by minority community funds.
Minority children receive the education that is desirable for the majority
authority and the normal medium of compulsory education is the majority
language. These schools are known as type 4a schools. There are also type 4b
schools that provide a ML component but these schools are entirely funded
with taxpayers money. Type 4b schools make the minority population
dependent on the majority-controlled funds. This dependency pattern leads
away from reversing language shift rather than toward it.
(3) The use of the ML in the lower work sphere involves interaction between
majority and minority members. Some of the latter may control certain
industries, products, or areas of specialisation. In a minority-controlled
enterprise that serves the majority, minorities may conduct their activities in
the ML. When the businessmen of the majority are serving the local minor-
ity public, reversing language shift efforts must be oriented to requesting
the service in the ML. Local quasi-governmental offices (banks, post offices,
registry offices, small claim courts, health clinics) can be influenced to move
in this direction.
(2) The ML is used in the lower governmental services and mass media but not
in the higher spheres of either. Reversing language shift efforts can seize the
most powerful and the most central institutions and processes of the
community, which are normally under majority control. Local agencies and
services in the ML neighbourhoods should be urged to operate bilingually
using whatever language is preferred by the citizens whom they are serv-
(1) This Stage represents the arrival of the pursuit of cultural autonomy for
those who have dreamed of attaining the ML language via the ML. When
the ML is recognised as the co-language of its region, it becomes associated
with the highest educational, occupational, and media activities there, but
its spokesmen and representatives become responsible for planning,
conducting and evaluating such activities.
Source: J.A. Fishman (1991) Reversing Language Shift. Theoretical and Empirical Foundations of
Assistance to Threatened Languages. Clevedon: Multilingual Matters.