Little to No Language

Written July 2012

Statement

Many different LDTCs, Bilingual, ESL and preschool teachers in New Jersey state they have come across Latino children described as having “Little to No Language.” Educators stated that the children were assessed in Spanish and not English. The children are as young as 3, who have been admitted to either Abbot school districts’ preschool programs or Special Education preschool programs. Others are in elementary school up to age 8. The children are more likely to be placed in Special Education, because they are assessed to have “Little to No Language.” The three top reasons from educators that explain this phenomenon are the following:

1. The parents of the children have to work multiple jobs, so they do not have time to speak to their children.

2. The parents have so little education that there is no language to pass onto their children.

3. The children have learning disabilities.

Analysis for reasons to “Little to No Language”

Getting a better understanding of where New Jersey’s Latino population originate may lend a better understanding to this “Little to No Language” description. The passenger traffic data from the New York New Jersey Port Authority, who runs all the airports in the area including Newark, JFK and Laguardia, indicate that the majority of the passenger traffic (arrivals and departures) involve 2 market groups: 1. Bermuda and Caribbean 2. Latin American (Central and South America).

Figure 1 – JFK International Airport Passenger Traffic by Market Group (Arrivals and Departures) and by Year (data from New York and New Jersey Port Authority July 2012)

table1

Figure 2 – Newark International Airport Passenger Traffic by Market Group (Arrivals and Departures) and by Year (data from New York and New Jersey Port Authority July 2012)

table2

Figure 3 – Laguardia Airport Passenger Traffic (Arrivals and Departures) by Market Group and by Year (data from New York and New Jersey Port Authority July 2012)

table3

There is evidence that the phenomenon of Latinos with “Little to No Language” can be explained that there are indigenous speakers from the Caribbean and Latin America living in New Jersey. Throughout Mexico, Central and South America, there are over 500 indigenous languages and over 2,000 tongues (language and dialects). From 2000 to 2010, there are more Latinos who self-identify as American Indians or some other race1. A comparison of the 2000 and 2010 U.S. Census shows there is a approximately 35% increase in the number of Latinos who identify as Asian and approximately a 35% increase in the number of Latinos who identify themselves as Hawiian or Pacific Islander. In addition, there is about 18% increase the number of Latinos who identify as Native American and Alaskan Native. There is growing usage of the term Amerindian to describe all the indigenous peoples throughout the Americas.

Figure 4 – US Census Bureau Latino Population’s Race Identification

table4  table5

Specific to New Jersey, according the Census Bureau, in 2010 New Jersey has a Latino population of 8,791,894 2. 18.1% or 1,555,144 were Hispanic.3 Latinos in New Jersey have already been identified as speaking various languages. In a single classroom in Trenton, NJ, two children have been identified as indigenous speakers. In the NJ Department of Education database containing language data, 172 languages are listed (see Appendix List 1), and some of them are indigenous languages: Zapotec (indigenous pre-Columbian language largely found in Oaxaca, Mexico), Quechua (Peruvian indigenous language), Nahuatl (indigenous Mesoamerican languages that belong to the Uto-Aztecan language family that is largely spoken in Central Mexico, but originate in South Western United States), and Central American Indian. In Cumberland County, students have been identified to speak Zapotec and what the DOE terms Central American Indian. In Ocean County, there are 40 identified students who speak one of the Nahuatl langauges, which indicate a large number of Mexicans from Oaxaca.4 The 28+ variations of Nahuatl are spoken by an estimated 1.5 million Nahua people, most of whom live in Central Mexico.

Figure 5 – Number of school children in Ocean County’s school districts speaking a Nahuatl language  (Data compiled  from  NJ DOE 2010-2011 RC11 datacase, Language table and NCLB Reports)

table6

The Census Bureau tabulated results of languages spoken across the nation and by individual states. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, there are just a few hundred Mayan and Arawakian (aka Arawakan) speakers and speakers of unknown languages. However, we know that the numbers presented by the Census Bureau are most likely underestimated, because undocumented Latinos in New Jersey would probably not fill out a census form. While Mayan languages are predominantly in Mexico and Guatemala, Arawakian languages are indigenous to Guatemala and the Caribbean.

Figure 6 –2006- 2008 (U.S. Census on Estimates on  New Jersey Language)

table7

CARIBBEAN

 While the Caribbeans are mostly Spanish speakers, there are French, Spanish creole, and indigenous speaking immigrants.  Three of the indigenous languages are Arawakian languages:  Arawak, Garifuna (which is also found in Guatemala) and Taino. The original form of Taino is currently being revitalized, and the creole form of Taino utilizes Spanish grammar and Taino vocabulary. Statistically, the probability of a child speaking one of these languages in New Jersey is very small. However, the Caribbean population may be contributing significantly to the Arawakian language speakers noted by the U.S. Census Bureau.

TRIBES IN THE CARIBBEAN 5 Geographic  Locations LANGUAGE Number of speakersbullet point   denotes individual language, slash denotes alternative names. parenthesis   denotes dialects of an individual language
Arawak IndianArawakan language   speakers Suriname, Guyana, French   Guiana, and Venezuela Lokono/Arawak  2,500 in    Suriname, Guyana, French Guiana, and Venezuela
Caquetio Caquetio (extinct)
Carib IndianCariban language   speakers Venezuela, Suriname,   French Guiana, Guyana, and Brazil Carib 10,000 in  Venezuela, Suriname, French Guiana, Guyana,   and Brazil
GarifunaArawakian language   speakers Honduras, Guatemala, Nicaragua and Belize Garifuna  100,000 speakers in Honduras, Guatemala,   Nicaragua and Belize
Inyeri Indian Inyeri (extinct)
Island Carib Kalipuna (extinct)
Shebayo Indian Shebayo (extinct)
Taino IndianArawakian language   speakers Puerto Rico, Cuba, the   Dominican Republic and the Bahamas Taino (original, and   Spanish-Taino creole) No statistics available

A CLOSER LOOK AT MEXICO

Oaxaca has over 50 tongues, and Mexico overall has over 300 tongues (see Appendix List 2) spoken by over 6.25 million6 out of 115 million7 people in Mexico. The Uto-Aztecan language family includes the 27 or so Nahuatl languages, which has been captured as a language by the NJ DOE. It is spoken by 1.5 million people who are Nuhua. They primarily live in Central Mexico. The map from Ethnalogue.org displays where the major language families are being spoken in Mexico.

mexicomap

CENTRAL and SOUTH AMERICA

As the data from the New York New Jersey Port Authority indicated, there are many Central Americans in New Jersey. There are over 60 groups of languages in Central America.8 The number of tongues is unknown.  Belize’s indigenous language groups include, Belize Kriol, Garifun, and Kekchi  Costa Rica’s language groups other than Spanish include Boruca, Bribri,   Cabécar, Limón Creole English, Maléku Jaíka, Ngäbere, and Teribe. El Salvador has Kekchí, Lenca, and Pipil. Guatemala has the most language groups in Central America: Achi’, Akateko, Awakateko, Chicomuceltec, Ch’orti’ Chuj   Garifuna, , Itza’, Ixil, Jakalteko , Kaqchikel Kaqchikel-K’iche’ Mixed   Language, K’iche’,Mam, Maya,Poqomam Poqomchi’,Q’anjob’al ,Q’eqchi’,   Sakapulteko,Sipakapense, Tacanec,Tektiteko, Tz’utujil ,Uspanteko, and Zinka (according   to some sources, this language is extinct). Honduras has Ch’orti’, Garifuna,   Lenca Mískito, Pech, Sumo,Tawahka, and Tol. Nicaragua has Garifuna, Mískito,   Rama, and Sumo-Mayangna. Panama’s indigenous language groups include Buglere, Emberá,   Emberá-Catío, Epena, Kuna, Ngäbere, Panamanian Creole, Teribe, Woun, and Meu. The bulk of the Latin American population derive from South America. There are over 30 language families and over 1,000 tongues. Brazil alone has over 180 tongues.9

A CLOSER LOOK AT GUATEMALA

NEWLABOR.ORG and LALDEF.ORG, Latin American support groups in New Jersey, stated that currently most of the Latinos in New Jersey are from Guatemala. These organizations focus on the Hispanic countries, not Brazil. While there has been no accurate accounting on the number of Guatemalans let alone other Latin Americans living in New Jersey, according to the 2010 U.S. Census, New Jersey is ranked fifth highest in number of Guatemalan residents, 48, 86910. Trenton-Ewing, NJ, is ranked the fourteenth highest population of Guatemalans in the nation.11  According to the U.S. Department of State, Guatemala has 24 indigenous language groups<sup12. The map below shows the location of 27 language groups spoken throughout the country of Guatemala. However, some say there are 29 language groups. 40% of Guatemalans speak an indigenous language. 13]

guatemalamap

Because there seems to be more Guatemalans than any other Latino group that possess indigenous languages, the Guatemalan population may be contributing to the majority of the phenomenon of “Little to No Language” in New Jersey. Many of the indigenous Guatemalans in New Jersey do not speak Spanish.

While Guatemalans are spread out across Metro New York, they have settled in distinct ethnic communities based on where they came from in Guatemala. “New Jersey’s Guatemalans are mainly Amerindians from rural areas in the north and west of Guatemala. Brooklyn, Queens, Connecticut and Westchester have more Mestizo people from the cities and suburbs in the south and east,” explained Rosita, president of a Guatemalan cultural association. Mestizo Guatemalans in Brooklyn and Queens typically blend in with other Central Americans, while the Amerindians in New Jersey, many of whom do not speak Spanish, are more isolated.14

In Palisades Park, NJ, many Guatemalans speak an indigenous language, not Spanish. Many speak an Indian dialect and rudimentary Spanish. Few can read or write, having left school at age 8 or 9, when most of Guatemala’s indigenous population begin a life of hard labor, tilling the land.15

Because there seems to be more Guatemalans than any other Latino group that possess indigenous languages, the Guatemalan population may be contributing to the majority of the phenomenon of “Little to No Language” in New Jersey. Many of the indigenous Guatemalans in New Jersey do not speak Spanish.

While Guatemalans are spread out across Metro New York, they have settled in distinct ethnic communities based on where they came from in Guatemala. “New Jersey’s Guatemalans are mainly Amerindians from rural areas in the north and west of Guatemala. Brooklyn, Queens, Connecticut and Westchester have more Mestizo people from the cities and suburbs in the south and east,” explained Rosita, president of a Guatemalan cultural association. Mestizo Guatemalans in Brooklyn and Queens typically blend in with other Central Americans, while the Amerindians in New Jersey, many of whom do not speak Spanish, are more isolated.16

In Palisades Park, NJ, many Guatemalans speak an indigenous language, not Spanish.

Many speak an Indian dialect and rudimentary Spanish. Few can read or write, having left school at age 8 or 9, when most of Guatemala’s indigenous population begin a life of hard labor, tilling the land.17

RECOMMENDATION

When schools identify children with “Little to No Language”, school assessments should first identify whether or not the child could be speaking one of the multitude of indigenous languages.   


[1] “More Hispanics in U.S. Calling Themselves Indian,” New York Times, July 3, 2011 http://www.nytimes.com/2011/07/04/nyregion/more-hispanics-in-us-calling-themselves-indian.html

[4] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nahuatl

[5] Data compiled from Native Languages (http://www.native-languages.org/guatemala.htm) and Ethnologue (http://www.ethnologue.com/show_country.asp?name=gt)

[6] Data compiled from Ethnalaogue.org http://www.ethnologue.com/show_country.asp?name=MX

[7] Central Intelligence Agency. The World Factbook. https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/mx.html

[8] Indiana University Blooming Library http://www.libraries.iub.edu/index.php?pageId=7090
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