Language Use and Violence: Assessing the Relationship Between Linguistic Context and Macrolevel Violence

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Abstract

Scholars have produced a sizable body of research assessing the macrolevel links between immigration and crime. However, researchers have given far less attention to related questions about the effects of language use on aggregate levels of violence. The current study addresses this gap in research by exploring the ways that patterns of language use—specifically, language heterogeneity and Spanish-language concentration—are related to year 2010 serious violent crime rates for nearly 2,900 census places across the United States. Results of our analysis reveal that linguistic heterogeneity is associated with increased violence and that this relationship is stronger in disadvantaged contexts. In contrast, Spanish-language concentration appears to be protective against violence and mitigates the violence-generating effects of structural disadvantage, net of immigration and other macrostructural characteristics. Implications of these findings for research on immigration, communities and crime, and related theoretical perspectives on immigrant revitalization and macrostructural theories of crime are discussed.

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