Language Key to National Identity

A new survey by the Pew Research Center reveals that language is a much more significant factor to national identity than birthplace. According to What It Takes to Truly Be ‘One of Us’, majorities in each of the 14 countries polled say it is very important to speak the native language to be considered a true member of the nation. Fully 70% of the U.S. public says that to be truly American it is very important to be able to speak English, and an additional 22% believe proficiency is somewhat important. Just 8% assert that English is not very or not at all important. U.S. generations differ on whether English proficiency matters to being an American. Among people ages 50 and older, 81% say such language ability is very important. Only 58% of those ages 18 to 34 place an equal premium on speaking English.

About 80% of Dutch, British, Hungarians, and Germans believe the ability to converse in their country’s language is very important to nationality. Canadians and Italians are the least likely to link language and national identity. Nevertheless, 60% of Canadians and Italians still make that strong connection.

“Debates over what it means to be a “true” American, Australian, German or other nationality have often highlighted the importance of a person being born in a particular country. But contrary to such rhetoric, the survey finds that people generally place a relatively low premium on a person’s birthplace. Only 13% of Australians, 21% of Canadians, 32% of Americans and a median of 33% of Europeans believe that it is very important for a person to be born in their country in order to be considered a true national.”

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