A paper called “Disadvantages of Linguistic Origin: Evidence from Immigrant Literacy Scores” by German economist Ingo E. Isphording from Ruhr University Bochum was released on April, 2013. The paper deals with the gap between immigrants and native speakers as regards to economic success and concludes that immigrants’ lagging behind in literacy scores is related to the linguistic distance existing between their mother tongue and the second language. Isphording then relates this literacy deficiency with economic difficulties. Those citizens who have better literacy skills are more likely to be employed and become one within the top 20 per cent of wage-earners.
The Approach on the Issue
Isphording starts by defining “linguistic distance”, which can be seen in two languages sounding too differently. To prove and establish linguistic distance between languages, he started by establishing the number of cognates between them. Cognates are words which sound similarly and mean the same in two different linguistic systems. Isphording also established the sounds that need to be changed when pronouncing two words with the same meaning. He finally concluded that the greater the number of different sounds, the greater the linguistic distance between the two languages.
Isphording found that the literacy capabilities of immigrants do not depend on the their country of origin or the country of immersion, but rather on the linguistic distance between their own mother tongue and the language used in the new host country.
Significance of the Results
The paper is partly a consequence of Germany’s inability to attract highly skilled immigrants and the country’s recent reforms to provide a more welcoming experience to those who are willing to move there, which includes providing a welcome bag and personal assistance and counselling. The results affect countries like the United States, as most of the immigrants they receive are not speakers of languages of a Germanic origin, but rather Mexican Spanish speakers or Asians.
The positive side of the research is that, although it produces a considerable gap between natives and immigrants, linguistic differences can be finally overcome, as it disappears after 20 years of living in the host country. The research is aimed at helping host countries identify immigrants who are likely to suffer the most difficulties to help them develop their linguistic abilities. An improvement in their language skills would then result in better economic conditions for the immigrant class.