Ruhr Economic Papers

Ruhr Economic Papers #274

Linguistic Distance and the Language Fluency of Immigrants

by Ingo E. Isphording and Sebastian Otten

RWI, RUB, 08/2011, 35 S./p., 8 Euro, ISBN 978-3-86788-319-1



We use a newly available measure of linguistic distance developed by the German Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology to explain heterogeneity in language skills of immigrants. This measure is based on an automatical algorithm comparing pronunciation and vocabulary of language pairs. Using data from the German Socio-Economic Panel covering the period from 1997 to 2003, the linguistic distance measure is applied within a human capital framework of language acquisition. It is shown that linguistic distance is the most important determinant for host country language acquisition and that it explains a large fraction of language skill heterogeneity between immigrants. By lowering the effi ciency and imposing higher costs of language learning, the probability of reporting good language skills is decreasing by increasing linguistic distance.

JEL-Classification: F22, J15, J24, J40

Keywords: Linguistic distance; language; immigrants; human capital

Published as:

Isphording, I. E. and S. Otten (2014), Linguistic Barriers in the Destination Language Acquisition of Immigrants. Journal of Economic Behavior and Organization 105 : 30-50.