English Only Movement in the U.S.

The English only movement has been a topic of concern in the United States since colonization. As European expansion forced many indigenous Americans to move westward, the establishment of schools that focused on “Europeanization” occurred, which included teaching students only in English. As a result, many indigenous American students were forced to change their birth names to English names, use English instead of their native language and overall assimilate to American society, which became the primary English only form of legislation or movement. In addition to indigenous American languages, the united states purchase of Louisiana and the Mexican-American war introduced more French and Spanish speakers. From 1803 to 1896, there had been movements and enactments to enforce English among the French speaking populations of Louisiana, the native indigenous speakers and Spanish speakers in the west and Puerto Rico[1]. Throughout the course of American history, language laws were passed and movements were created, as it seems according to what was occurring during periods of political turmoil in the country. For example, English only shifted to specifically prohibit the use of the German language during World War I [2].
The contemporary English only movements’ purpose is to enforce the official use of English in the United States government and political environments by establishing English at the official language of the United States. The majority of the population speaks English, but the United States actually doesn’t have an official language[3]. There have been several movements that hope to force the United States to pass laws and legislations that requires the English be used in schools, businesses and other essential aspects of everyday life. But with many schools beginning to expand English as a Second Language program, the increase of immigration, the current United States economy and the emerging global/ international relationships that many businesses and political spheres share with the world, pushing to make English an official language perhaps is not on the to do list of the United States government.
Contemporary English only movements began around the 1980’s with the first being approved in Florida which was called the “anti-bilingual ordinance”. Virginia actually declared English as the official language of the state[4]. The largest contemporary English Only Movement began in 1983, and was led by a right wing organization named U.S. English. The organization was founded on the principles of preserving the English language as it could become endangered in the face of increasing immigration and increasing immigrants who do not speak English. More so, there was a concern that many immigrants were not being encouraged to learn English since there existed interpreter services, bilingual education, and multilingualism in other aspects of our lives. At present, there are 23 English only states that have been established as a result of the U.S. English organization[5].
  The number of actual English only states is disputed, numbers range from 23 to 30, including such states as California, Florida, Illinois, Louisiana, South Dakota and Wyoming, to name a few[6]. According to the American Civil Liberties Union, English only laws vary across states and are applied in a variety of ways. Some states only declare English as the official language of the states, whereas other states limit bilingual assistance in education and employment programs, prohibits multilingual ballots and in some instances enforces English only in emergency situations and courtrooms, which would prohibit the use of a translator in these instances[7].
The U.S. English’s philosophy is not only to promote the conservation of the English language, but to encourage law agencies, government and other local community agencies to enforce the use of the English language and to prohibit means of accommodating non English speakers. The organization itself has received harsh criticism, referring to its propaganda as racist and anti immigrant, and also referring to the founder of the organization as the founder and former chairman of FAIR (Federation for American Immigration Reform), an anti immigration organization[8]. Dr. Tanton, the organizations former chairman ahs also been tied to organizations such as Center for immigration Studies, Californians for Population Stabilization and Americans for Border Control[9], which suggest and supports theories surrounding his anti immigration position. His further statement in a memo in 1986 caused a pub of negative publicity, when he inadvertently referred to increasing immigration as the Hispanic take over, and suggested that Latinos were “simply more fertile” and that whites should not hand over power to them[10]. He was forced to resign as a result of the negative controversy surrounding the organization, which claims not to embrace anti immigration and racism, but to encourage immigrants to learn English to better adapt to the lifestyle in the United States.
 The lobbying of U.S English succeeded in pushing more than 25 states to declare English as an official language. The effect of the movement raises many questions about the millions of people of the United States who are not English speakers and how the states that have larger populations of non English speakers respond. Ironically, both California and Florida are states that have significantly high populations of non-English speakers and enclaves, particularly those of Little Havana and Little Haiti in Miami, of citizens who only speak an language other than English.
 The evidence is clear that the nation is multilingual, it has been since the country was founded. As the country encountered waves of immigration, the laws and legislations concerning immigration and language continuously sparked, but specifically when in 2003, when the United States census reported that Latino/a (Hispanics) outnumbered African Americans, making them the largest minority group in the country[11].

According to Jeffery Passel, The number of Latinos could reach 60 million by 2020, said Jeffrey Passel, a demographer at the Urban Institute, a public policy center in Washington. He says, “If current trends continue…Hispanics could account for 15.5% of the population in 2010 and 18% in 2020,”. The change from English to Bilingualism to Spanish is underway and is evident as Harry Pachon suggest that big corporations are selling goods whose nutritional value and ingredients are in English and Spanish even politicians are learning Spanish slogans and phrases to appeal to the Latino/a demographic.

 When examining the contemporary English only movement and other movements like it that promote the interest of preserving the English language and making it the official language of the united states, it is crucial to examine the underlining reasons of their quest to push English only laws. Is it to preserve the English language, American culture and unify American citizens by eradicating what so commonly divides many of us, or is it to alienate immigrants, target specific ethnic groups, encourage assimilation and actually to segregate English speakers from non English speakers?


 1. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/English-only_movement, retrieved 07-17-2009

2. Martin, James J (1988). An American Adventure in Book burning in the Style of 1918. Ralph Myles Publisher. 3.http://www.proenglish.org/resources/legislation.html, retrieved 07-17-1009

4.http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/English-only_movement, retrieved 07-17-2009

5.http://www.massenglishplus.org/content/Language_Rights/English-Only_Movement/EngOnly.html , English only movement FAQ File, Mass. English Plus. Retrieved 07-16-2009

6. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/English-only_movement, retrieved 07-17-2009


 7.http://www.lectlaw.com, The American Civil Liberties Union, New York. Retrieved 07-16-2009

8.http://www.massenglishplus.org/content/Language_Rights/English-Only_Movement/EngOnly.html , English only movement FAQ File, Mass. English Plus. Retrieved 07-16-2009

9.http://www.massenglishplus.org/content/Language_Rights/English-Only_Movement/EngOnly.html , English only movement FAQ File, Mass. English Plus. Retrieved 07-16-2009

10.http://www.massenglishplus.org/content/Language_Rights/English-Only_Movement/EngOnly.html , English only movement FAQ File, Mass. English Plus. Retrieved 07-16-2009

11. Alonso-Zaldivar, Ricardo (2003, June 19). Latino’s Now Top Minority. Los Angeles Times.




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