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The Roles of Immigrants and Foreign Students in US Science, Innovation, and Entrepreneurship$
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Ina Ganguli, Shulamit Kahn, and Megan MacGarvie

Print publication date: 2020

Print ISBN-13: 9780226695624

Published to Chicago Scholarship Online: September 2020

DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226695761.001.0001

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Immigration and Invention

Immigration and Invention

Does Language Matter?

(p.123) 5 Immigration and Invention
The Roles of Immigrants and Foreign Students in US Science, Innovation, and Entrepreneurship

Kirk Doran

Chungeun Yoon

University of Chicago Press

Economists have noted that linguistically diverse immigrant flows might have a particularly large impact on innovation and creativity, through the introduction and combination of new perspectives, information, and habits (Alesina and La Ferrara 2005). On the other hand, if innovation depends on communication, and communication depends on a common language, then linguistically uniform immigration flows may have the largest impact on innovation. In this paper, we make use of features of the 1920s U.S. immigration quotas that caused some of the “missing immigrants” to be absent from cities which had many residents who happened to speak their language, while other “missing immigrants” were absent from cities which had few residents who spoke their language. The resulting changes in innovation are consistent with a U-shaped curve for the effect of linguistic diversity on the innovativeness of a society. Too much linguistic diversity creates a “tower of babel” effect, in which people have unique things to talk about but no common language. Too little linguistic diversity creates a homogeneous population, in which people have a common language but nothing unique to share. The optimal amount of linguistic diversity for a creative society appears to be somewhere in between.

Keywords:   immigration, languages, innovation, cities, quotas, migration

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