Accessible Requires Authentication Published by De Gruyter Mouton December 16, 2015

The Persian Paradox: Language use and maintenance among Iranian Americans

Mehdi Bozorgmehr and Maryam Moeini Meybodi


As a relatively new, highly educated, professional and entrepreneurial immigrant group, Iranian Americans display complex linguistic patterns. In this article, we analyze data from the American Community Survey (ACS) on English language proficiency and languages spoken at home for the first- and second-generation Iranian Americans. These quantitative data are supplemented by in-depth interviews with a purposive sample of Iranian American families in the northeastern United States on their behavior and attitudes toward learning and preserving their native language (Persian). Although ACS data show high English language proficiency among first-generation Iranian immigrants, they also show a relatively high usage of Persian language among this ethnic group. Findings show that parents and children had positive behavior and attitudes toward the preservation of Persian. As transnational families, parents have created a “tool kit” to ensure that Persian will persist at least through the second generation. Maintaining transnational ties, attending weekly cultural and religious events, providing Persian instruction, and controlling children’s language use at home were among the most important mechanisms of ethnic language maintenance.


We thank the anonymous reviewer and the guest editors of this special issue for their comments on an earlier draft.


Alba, Richard. 2004. Language assimilation today: Bilingualism persists more than in the past, but English still dominates. (accessed 17 February 2014). Search in Google Scholar

Ansari, Maboud. 2013. The Iranian Americans: A popular social history of a new American ethnic group. New York: The Edwin Mellen Press. Search in Google Scholar

Bozorgmehr, Mehdi. Forthcoming. Immigration and ethnic studies. In Erica Ehrenburg & Franklin Lewis (eds.), Iranian studies in America: Looking back, looking ahead. Winona Lake, IN: Eisenbrauns. Search in Google Scholar

Bozorgmehr, Mehdi & Daniel Douglas. 2011. Success(ion): Second-generation Iranian Americans. Iranian studies 44(1). 3–24. Search in Google Scholar

Bozorgmehr, Mehdi & Georges Sabagh. 1988. High status immigrants: A statistical profile of Iranians in the United States. Iranian studies 21(3–4). 5–36. Search in Google Scholar

Daha, Maryam. 2011. Contextual factors contributing to ethnic identity development of second-generation Iranian American adolescents. Journal of adolescent research 26(5). 543–569. Search in Google Scholar

Kasinitz, Philip, John Mollenkopf, Mary Waters & Jennifer Holdaway. 2008. Inheriting the city: The children of immigrants come of age. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. Search in Google Scholar

Mahdi, Ali Akbar. 1998. Ethnic identity among second-generation Iranians in the United States. Iranian studies 31(1). 77–95. Search in Google Scholar

Mobasher, Mohsen M. 2012. Iranians in Texas: Migration, politics, and ethnic identity. Austin, Texas: University of Texas Press. Search in Google Scholar

Modarresi, Yahya. 2001. The Iranian community in the United States and the maintenance of Persian. International Journal of the Sociology of Language 148. 93–115. Search in Google Scholar

Moeini Meybodi, Maryam. 2014. Ethnic language maintenance: A case study of second-generation Iranian Americans in the Northeastern states. Unpublished Master’s Thesis, The Graduate Center, City University of New York. Search in Google Scholar

Najafi, Hedieh. 2009. Language maintenance and shift among Iranians residing in the United States. Unpublished Doctoral Dissertation, Arizona State University. Search in Google Scholar

Portes, Alejandro & Lingxin Hao. 1998. E Pluribus Unum: Bilingualism and loss of language in the second generation. Sociology of Education 71(4). 269–294. Search in Google Scholar

Portes, Alejandro & Rubén G. Rumbaut. 2001. Legacies: The story of the immigrant second generation. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press. Search in Google Scholar

Portes, Alejandro & Rubén G. Rumbaut. 2006. Immigrant America: A portrait, 3rd edn. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press. Search in Google Scholar

Portes, Alejandro & Richard Schauffler. 1994. Language and the second generation: Bilingualism yesterday and today. International Migration Review 28(4). 640–661. Search in Google Scholar

Rumbaut, Rubén G. & Douglas S. Massey. 2013. Immigration & language diversity in the United States. American Academy of Arts & Sciences 142(3). 141–154. Search in Google Scholar

Shavarini, Mitra. 2004. Educating immigrants: Experiences of second generation Iranians. New York: LFB Scholarly Pub. Search in Google Scholar

Shirzai, Roozbeh & Maryam Borjian. 2012. Persian bilingual and community education among Iranian-Americans in New York City. In Ofelia Garcia, Zeena Zakharia & Bahar Otcu (eds.), Bilingual community education and multilingualism: Beyond heritage languages in a global city, 154–168. Bristol, England: Multilingual Matters. Search in Google Scholar

Stracke, Elke. 2011. Why are you learning German? For students aged 8–12.—age-8-12-reformatted-ES-pz-mp3.pdf (accessed 13 April 2013). Search in Google Scholar

Published Online: 2015-12-16
Published in Print: 2016-1-1

©2016 by De Gruyter Mouton