English-only movement: Wikis


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From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

English-only movement, also known as Official English movement, refers to a political movement for the use only of the English language in official government operations through the establishing of English as the only official language in the United States. There have been various unrelated incarnations of the movement throughout American history.


English and reasons behind English-only movement

In 1919, President Theodore Roosevelt wrote, "We have room for but one language in this country, and that is the English language, for we intend to see that the crucible turns our people out as Americans, of American nationality, and not as dwellers in a polyglot boarding house."[1]

U.S. English, an advocate group for "Official English" summarizes their belief that "the passage of English as the official language will help to expand opportunities for immigrants to learn and speak English, the single greatest empowering tool that immigrants must have to succeed."[2]

Earlier English-only movements

In 1803, as a result of the Louisiana Purchase, the United States acquired French-speaking populations in Louisiana. After the Mexican-American War, the United States acquired about 75,000 Spanish speakers in addition to several indigenous language-speaking populations.

An 1847 law authorized Anglo-French instruction in public schools in Louisiana. In 1849, the California constitution recognized Spanish language rights.

French language rights were abolished after the American Civil War. In 1868, the Indian Peace Commission recommended English-only schooling for the Native Americans. In 1878–79, the California constitution was rewritten: "All laws of the State of California, and all official writings, and the executive, legislative, and judicial proceedings shall be conducted, preserved, and published in no other than the English language."

In the late 1880s, Wisconsin and Illinois passed English-only instruction laws for both public and parochial schools.

In 1896, under the Republic of Hawaii government, English became the sole medium of public schooling for Hawaiian children. After the Spanish-American War, English was declared "the official language of the school room" in Puerto Rico. In the same way, English was declared the official language in the Philippines, after the Philippine-American War.

During World War I, there was a widespread campaign against the use of the German language in the U.S., including removing books in the German language from libraries.[3] A related action took place in Australia, where the South Australian state government passed the Nomenclature Act of 1917. The legislation renamed 69 towns, suburbs or areas that had German names.[4]

The modern English-only movement

  • 1980: Dade County, Florida, voters approved an "anti-bilingual ordinance." [5] This was later repealed by the county commission in 1993.
  • 1981: English was declared the official language in the state of Virginia.
  • 1983: Dr. John Tanton and Senator S. I. Hayakawa founded a political lobbying organization, U.S. English. (Tanton was a former head of the Sierra Club's population committee and of Zero Population Growth, and founder of the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), an immigration reductionist group.)
  • 1986
    • Tanton wrote a memo containing remarks about Hispanics claimed by critics to be derogatory, which appeared in the Arizona Republic newspaper, leading to the resignations from U.S. English of board member Walter Cronkite and executive director Linda Chavez; Tanton would also sever his ties to the organization as a result.
    • Larry Pratt founded English First, while Lou Zaeske established the American Ethnic Coalition.
  • 1994: Tanton and other former U.S. English associates founded ProEnglish specifically to defend Arizona's English-only law. ProEnglish rejects the term "English-only movement" and asks its supporters to refer to the movement instead as "Official English".[6]
  • 2006: The U.S. Senate voted on two separate changes to an immigration bill in May, 2006.[7] The amended bill recognized English as a "common and unifying language" and gave contradictory instructions to government agencies on their obligations for non-English publications. [8]
  • 2007: In what was essentially a replay of the 2006 actions, on June 6, 2007 the U.S. Senate again voted on two separate amendments to a subsequent immigration reform bill that closely resembled the amendments to the 2006 Senate bill.[9] Ultimately, neither the 2006 nor 2007 immigration reform bill has become law.
  • 2009: On January 22, voters in Nashville, Tennessee rejected a proposal under a referendum election to make "Nashville the largest city in the United States to prohibit the government from using languages other than English, with exceptions allowed for issues of health and safety." The initiative failed by a vote of 57% to 43%.[10]


The modern English-only movement has met with rejection from the Linguistic Society of America, which passed a resolution in 1986–87 opposing "'English only' measures on the grounds that they are based on misconceptions about the role of a common language in establishing political unity, and that they are inconsistent with basic American traditions of linguistic tolerance."[11]

Linguist Geoffrey Pullum, in an essay entitled "Here come the linguistic fascists" charges English First with "hatred and suspicion of aliens and immigrants" and points out that English is far from under threat in the United States, saying "making English the official language of the United States of America is about as urgently called for as making hotdogs the official food at baseball games."[12]

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) have stated that "English Only" laws are inconsistent with both the First Amendment right to communicate with or petition the government, and the right to equality because they bar government employees from providing non-English language assistance and services. [13] Many academics seem to agree.[14] On August 11, 2000, President Bill Clinton signed Executive Order 13166, "Improving Access to Services for Persons with Limited English Proficiency." The Executive Order requires Federal agencies to examine the services they provide, identify any need for services to those with limited English proficiency (LEP), and develop and implement a system to provide those services so LEP persons can have meaningful access to them.[15]

While the judicial system has noted that the laws are largely symbolic and non prohibitive, public school staff often interpret them to mean English is the mandatory language of daily life. In one instance, an elementary school bus driver prohibited students from speaking Spanish on their way to school after Colorado passed its legislation.[16] In 2004 in Scottsdale, a teacher claimed to be enforcing English immersion policies when she allegedly slapped students for speaking Spanish in class.[17] In 2005 in Kansas City, a student was suspended for speaking Spanish in the school hallways. The written discipline referral explaining the decision of the school to suspend the student for one and a half days, noted: "This is not the first time we have [asked] Zach and others to not speak Spanish at school." [18]

Current law

English language status by State      The only official language      An official language      No final action Oklahoma voters will decide whether to make English the official language of the state on November 2, 2010

Currently, all official documents in the U.S. are written in English, though some also have versions in other languages.[19] The United States federal government does not specify an official language.

  • Notes:
    • West Virginia passed a law in 2005, but Governor Joe Manchin vetoed it because it was included in an unrelated parks and recreation bill, and the state constitution allowed only one topic per legislation piece.[31]
    • English and Spanish have been official languages in Puerto Rico since 1993. English and Chamorro are the official languages of Guam and the Northern Marianas Islands. English and Samoan are the official languages of American Samoa.[32]

See also


  1. ^ Roosevelt, Theodore, Works (Memorial ed., 1926), vol. XXIV, p. 554 (New York: Charles Scribner's 11 Sons).
  2. ^ us-english.org "Background of organization"
  3. ^ Martin, James J (1988). An American Adventure in Bookburning in the Style of 1918. Ralph Myles Publisher. 
  4. ^ Leadbeater, Maureen M. "German Place Names in South Australia:". http://www.adelaideco-op.familyhistorysa.info/germanplacenames.htm. 
  5. ^ (PDF) the Language battle: Speaking the Truth, University of Miami law School: Inter-American law review, February 9, 2007, p. 2, http://vega.law.miami.edu/cle/pdf/ialr_symposia_01312007.pdf, retrieved 2008-02-17 
  6. ^ Official English Is Not "English Only", proenglish.org, http://www.proenglish.org/notenglishonly.html, retrieved 2008-02-17 
  7. ^ Roll call vote on the Amendment (Inhofe Amdt. No. 4064 ), United States Senate, May 18, 2006, http://www.senate.gov/legislative/LIS/roll_call_lists/roll_call_vote_cfm.cfm?congress=109&session=2&vote=00131, retrieved 2009-04-09 ;
    ^ Roll call vote on the Amendment (Salazar Amdt. No. 4073 As Modified ), United States Senate, May 18, 2006, http://www.senate.gov/legislative/LIS/roll_call_lists/roll_call_vote_cfm.cfm?congress=109&session=2&vote=00132, retrieved 2009-04-09 .
  8. ^ "Snopes on the English-only amendments". http://www.snopes.com/politics/immigration/englishvote.asp. Retrieved 2008-08-25. 
  9. ^ Roll call vote on the Amendment (Inhofe Amdt. No. 1151 ), United States Senate, June 6, 2007, http://www.senate.gov/legislative/LIS/roll_call_lists/roll_call_vote_cfm.cfm?congress=110&session=1&vote=00198, retrieved 2009-04-09 ;
    ^ Roll call vote on the Amendment (Salazar Amdt. No. 1384 ), United States Senate, June 6, 2007, http://www.senate.gov/legislative/LIS/roll_call_lists/roll_call_vote_cfm.cfm?congress=110&session=1&vote=00197, retrieved 2009-04-09 .
  10. ^ English-only fails; lopsided vote ends heated campaign. The Tennessean. Retrieved on 2009-01-23
  11. ^ Geoff Nunberg (December 28, 1986), Resolution: English Only, Linguistic Society of America, http://www.lsadc.org/info/lsa-res-english.cfm, retrieved 2008-02-17 
  12. ^ Pullum, Geoffrey K. (1987). "Here come the linguistic fascists.". Natural Language and Linguistic Theory 5: 603–9. doi:10.1007/BF00138990.  Reprinted in Geoffrey K. Pullum. (1991). The Great Eskimo Vocabulary Hoax and Other Irreverent Essays on the Study of Language. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. pp. 111–19. ISBN 0-226-68534-9. 
  13. ^ The Rights of Immigrants -ACLU Position Paper (9/8/2000). Retrieved on 2008-12-11
  14. ^ See, e.g. "Constitutional Clash: When English-only Meets Voting Rights" (Yale Law & Policy Journal), http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=1489911
  15. ^ Executive Order 13166. Retrieved on 2008-12-11
  16. ^ Gibson, Kari. English only court cases involving the U.S workplace. University of Hawai'i. Retrieved on 2008-12-11
  17. ^ Anne Ryman and Ofelia Madrid, Hispanics upset by teacher's discipline, The Arizona Republic, January 17, 2004.
  18. ^ T.R. Reid, Spanish At School Translates to Suspension, The Washington Post, December 9, 2005.
  19. ^ "Spanish language website for the FDA". US Food and Drug Administration. http://www.fda.gov/oc/spanish/. Retrieved 2008-07-05. 
  20. ^ The 50 states at a glance, proenglish.org, http://www.proenglish.org/issues/offeng/states.html, retrieved 2008-04-12 
  21. ^ Alaska's 1998 voter approved Official English statute was declared unconstitutional by a state court in 2002, but was ruled constitutionally valid in a 4-1 vote in 2007 by the state supreme court. The supreme court did strike one sentence from the voter approved text. ^ Alaska Supreme Court Upholds State's Official English Law., Business Wire, November 5 2007, http://www.allbusiness.com/government/government-bodies-offices-law-courts-tribunals/5305414-1.html ;
    ^ Legal Status of official English in Alaska, proenglish.org, http://www.proenglish.org/states/alaska.htm, retrieved 2009-04-09 
  22. ^ Arizona's 1988 Official English amendment was overturned by the Arizona State Supreme Court in April, 1998. It was reinstated by voters in November, 2006. ^ Legal Status of official English in Arizona, proenglish.org, http://www.proenglish.org/states/arizona.htm, retrieved 2009-04-09 , proenglish.org
  23. ^ 5 ILCS 460/20 (from Ch. 1, par. 2901‑20) - Sec. 20. "Official language. The official language of the State of Illinois is English."
  24. ^ Governor's Signature Makes English the Official Language of Kansas, Business Wire, May 11, 2007, http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m0EIN/is_2007_May_11/ai_n19095444, retrieved 2008-05-21 
  25. ^ Official Language Law of Massachusetts (1975)
  26. ^ Legal Status of official English in Hawai'i, proenglish.org, http://www.proenglish.org/states/hawaii.htm, retrieved 2008-04-12 
  27. ^ For background see Legal Status of official English in Louisiana, proenglish.org, http://www.proenglish.org/states/louisiana.htm, retrieved 2008-04-12 
      Refuted by Language Legislation in Louisiana, http://ourworld.compuserve.com/homepages/JWCRAWFORD/can-la.htm, retrieved 2008-05-21 , quoting provisions of the 1974 Louisiana State constitution
  28. ^ Language Laws of New Mexico, proenglish.org, http://www.proenglish.org/states/newmexico.htm, retrieved 2008-04-12 
  29. ^ Oregon Official English legislation, proenglish.org, http://www.proenglish.org/states/oregon.htm, retrieved 2008-04-12 
  30. ^ Proposed English legislation, H.B. 5830, proenglish.org, http://www.proenglish.org/states/rhodeisland.htm, retrieved 2008-04-12 
  31. ^ "English-Only Bill Is Vetoed". The New York Times. 2005-04-18. http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9906E1D71E3EF93BA25757C0A9639C8B63. Retrieved 2009-07-30. 
  32. ^ "Samoa now an official language of instruction in American Samoa". Radio New Zealand International. 2008-10-03. http://www.rnzi.com/pages/news.php?op=read&id=42333. Retrieved 2009-07-30. 

Further reading

  • Lynch, William, "A Nation Established by Immigrants Sanctions Employers for Requiring English to be Spoken at Work: English-Only Work Rules and National Origin Discrimination," 16 Temple Political and Civil Rights Law Review 65 (2006).

External links



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