A notable scholar of semantics, Hayakawa also had a political career. He represented California in the U.S. Senate, where he launched a movement to establish English as the official language of the United States by introducing the English Language Amendment in 1981.
Born in Vancouver in 1906, Hayakawa was the son of a Japanese immigrant to Canada. After completing high school in Winnipeg, he continued his education at the University of Manitoba and McGill University in Montreal, earning a master of arts degree in English in 1928. In 1935, he completed his doctorate in English and American literature at the University of Wisconsin.
S. I. Hayakawa (right) with President Richard M. Nixon in 1969, when Hayakawa was president of San Francisco State College.
Hayakawa taught English at the University of Wisconsin from 1936 to 1939 and at the Illinois Institute of Technology from 1939 to 1947. As a Canadian immigrant, he was not subject to internment during World War II. Because of wartime restrictions, Hayakawa had to wait until 1954 to become a U.S. citizen.
In 1955, Hayakawa became a professor of English at San Francisco State College (now known as San Francisco State University). He was promoted to college president in 1968. Hayakawa was elected to the U.S. Senate as a Republican in 1976.
Baron, Dennis. The English-Only Question: An Official Language for Americans? New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1990. Gallegos, Bee, ed. English: Our Official Language? New York: H. W. Wilson, 1994. Tse, Lucy. “Why Don’t They Learn English?” Separating Fact from Fallacy in the U.S. Language Debate. New York: Teachers College Press, 2001.
English as a second language
English-only and official English movements
World War II