Bilingual Experience in the Hungarian and German Immigrant Communities of the San Francisco Bay Area


  • Gergely Tóth University of California, Berkeley



Hungarian and German immigration history, diaspora, linguistic interference, attrition, maintenance, San Francisco, California


Studies on the interaction of languages are gaining importance in today’s world, characterized by accelerated migration and increasing cultural exchange. Unlike most research in this field, which concentrate on one embedded language against a matrix language, this fieldwork-based study examines the linguistic life in two immigrant populations, Hungarian and German, against the background of English. The primary focus of this article is the description of the bilingual and bicultural experience of the two groups. The discussion of language and identity will take a central place in the paper, and diglossia, bilingualism, loyalty, and language as social behavior will also be touched upon (section 4). This is complemented by a socio-historical portrayal of these speech communities of San Francisco, set forth in the preceding section 3. Section 5 provides an outline of the informant sets, spanning three generations in each linguistic cohort, and illustrates the subjects’ attitude towards maintenance. The final, sixth section offers qualitative and quantitative comparative statements about the results of linguistic interference and the ongoing attrition process, thus contributing to our understanding of contact linguistic mechanisms, and shedding light on specific grammatical and lexical features that are most prone to attritional forces.

Author Biography

Gergely Tóth, University of California, Berkeley

Gergely Tóth studied at Eötvös Lóránd University (ELTE) in Budapest and at the University of Heidelberg, and received his Ph.D. in Germanic linguistics from the University of California, Berkeley where he served as lecturer in Hungarian and German until 2012. His interests include sociolinguistics, especially language and culture maintenance, attrition and loss, dialectology, semiotics, historical linguistics, and immigration history. For the latter, he has conducted extensive fieldwork research in Hungarian communities throughout the United States. His book Linguistic Interference and First Language Attrition: German and Hungarian in the San Francisco Bay Area appeared in 2007.






Cluster Articles: Hungarian Borders, Immigration, Diasporas