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Culture and Language

Edward P. Lazear
Journal of Political Economy
Vol. 107, No. S6 (December 1999), pp. S95-S126
DOI: 10.1086/250105
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.1086/250105
Page Count: 32
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Culture and Language
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Abstract

Common culture and common language facilitate trade between individuals. Individuals have incentives to learn the other languages and cultures so that they have a larger pool of potential trading partners. The value of assimilation is larger to an individual from a small minority than to one from a large minority group. When a society has a very large majority of individuals from one culture, individuals from minority groups will be assimilated more quickly. Assimilation is less likely when an immigrant's native culture and language are broadly represented in his or her new country. Also, when governments protect minority interests directly, incentives to be assimilated into the majority culture are reduced. In a pluralistic society, a government policy that encourages diverse cultural immigration over concentrated immigration is likely to increase the welfare of the native population. Sometimes, policies that subsidize assimilation and the acquisition of majority language skills can be socially beneficial. The theory is tested and confirmed by examining U.S. census data, which reveal that the likelihood that an immigrant will learn English is inversely related to the proportion of the local population that speaks his or her native language.

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