Although some Americans see these movements as patriotic or well-intended, other Americans perceive such efforts to be anti-immigrant or racist. These movements tend to experience their greatest popularity during times of economic hardship, massive immigration, or war. At the same time, they represent a desire by members of the English-speaking majority in the United States to create national cohesiveness under the banner of the English language.
Although sentiments against non-English-speaking residents in America can be found in the words of the English colonists and the nation’s first political leaders, the history of English-only movements in the United States can be traced back to the nineteenth century in California. The 1849 California constitution called for the publication of the future state’s laws in both English and Spanish, yet by 1855 English became the official language in the state’s schools. When the state constitution was rewritten a generation later, all governmental proceedings were ordered to be held and recorded in English only.
As the U.S. economy expanded and immigrant workers flowed into the United States during the early years of the twentieth century, the English-only movement grew. Funded by businessmen who feared possible revolutionary violence among newly arrived immigrants, the movement ranged from the benign efforts of the
From 1981 until 1990, more immigrants arrived in the United States than in any other ten-year period since the decade that began in 1901. Movements scapegoating immigrant groups began to experience a renaissance. One organization, called U.S. English, was founded in 1983 by Senator
California senator S. I. Hayakawa in 1981. A Canadian immigrant of Japanese heritage and former educator, Hayakawa was one of the leading proponents of making English the official language of the United States.
In 1986, a memorandum written by Tanton containing derogatory remarks regarding Latinos was made public. In response, retired CBS newsman
As the twenty-first century began, another wave of anti-immigrant sentiment swept across the United States. Although this movement claimed to be against illegal immigration only, both documented and undocumented Spanish-speaking residents of the United States faced increased official and unofficial harassment from authorities and private citizens. Once again, there were calls to make English the official language of the United States. Laws were passed in some states forbidding the use of Spanish in the workplace and in schools, even informally. In 2007, a bill sponsored by members of both major political parties for the
Crawford, James. At War With Diversity: U.S. Language Policy in an Age of Anxiety. Clevedon, England: Multilingual Matters, 2000. Collection of essays providing a clear and lively account of language politics in the United States. Crawford discusses the history of legislation attempting to make English the official language of the United States, as well as the debate around the issue. _______, ed. Language Loyalties: A Source Book on the Official English Controversy. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1992. This collection of readings is a reasonably balanced guide to the issues in the English-only debate. While it mostly addresses the movement to make English the official language that began during the 1980’s, the primary source documents herein are important for their content and historical value. Gonzalez, Roseann Dueñas, with Ildikó Melis, eds. Language Ideologies: Critical Perspectives on the Official English Movement. Vol. 2, History, Theory, and Policy. Urbana: National Council of Teachers of English, 2001. A collection of essays that addresses the history and issues involved in the debate over teaching English-only in American classrooms. The essays are written by a number of people representing different backgrounds, although the overwhelming consensus is that English-only classrooms are not beneficial to students or society. King, Robert D. “Should English Be the Law? Language Is Tearing Apart Countries Around the World, and the Proponents of ’Official English’ May Be Ready to Add America to the List.” The Atlantic Monthly 279, no. 4 (April, 1997): 55-64. King discusses the English-only movement of the 1980’s and 1990’s and examines the possible conflicts that could arise if English were made the official language of the United States. He takes an instructive look at other nations where linguistic differences have caused conflicts that broke into war or were resolved through compromise. Ricento, Thomas, ed. An Introduction to Language Policy: Theory and Method. Malden, Mass.: Blackwell, 2005. Aimed at the higher education market, this book provides the reader with the important debates in the English-only controversy. Encompassing a wide range of opinions, it is a useful sourcebook on the subject.
Bilingual Education Act of 1968
English as a second language
Hayakawa, S. I.