The lobbying of the u.s english movement since 1983: a campaign via the media in quest of national unity
par Victoria Riposseau
Université de Nantes - Maitrise IRT Anglais 2010
1. The Role of Language in the Nation-building Process
In this part, our aim will be to measure the unifying role of language in the American nation. As we have seen previously, the English language did play a role in the building or the American nation but we have seen that the union of what was going to become the United States also used the German, the French and the Spanish language. In a speech given by Hayakawa in 1981, U.S ENSGLISH stated that it was the sharing of a common language that allowed people to create societies. When justifying the need of their amendment, he wrote that when people speak one language they become as one, they become a society?(Annex I, l.17-18). According to U.S ENGLISH, a society is based on agreements and agreements are only achievable with the sharing of a common language. It has been proved that the American nation is the result of an agreement between the different states that composed the nation but it has also been demonstrated that more than one language has been needed to draw up the social contract on which the nation was based. Hayakawa wrote:
We may disagree when we argue, but at least we understand each other when we argue. Because we can argue with each other, we can also come to agreements and we can create societies. That is how societies work (Annex I, l. 18-21).
According to Hayakawa, the nation came into being thanks to the sharing of the English language so that it was the political use of the English language that made it an instrument of national union. U.S ENGLISH has been presenting language as the main element at the origin of the creation and the maintenance of the American nation. In his monograph, Hayakawa wrote that language has drawn up the understandings and agreements and social contracts that make a society possible? (Annex IV, l.129-130). Hayakawa has been justifying the presence of the English language as obvious because he has been considering that English is the basis on which the political institutions at the origin of the nation were set up. Having previously explained that U.S ENGLISH has been inaccurately presenting English as the historical language of the nation, it is interesting in this part to question the role of language in the nation-building process. Did the emergence of the American nation rely on the English language?
First of all, we need to define the concept of the nation itself in order to determine the role of language in the creation and maintenance of nations. Joseph Stalin, in Marxism and the National Question (1913), defined a nation as a historically constituted, stable community of people formed on the basis of a common language, territory, economic life and psychological make-up manifested in a common culture?37. Like Joseph Stalin, most commentators acknowledged the need of a common territory, a common history, a common economy and a common culture in the emergence of nations. In Stalin`s definition of the nation, it seems that language played a role in the formation of nations. Contrary to Stalin, A.D Smith defined the concept of nation as a named human population sharing an historic territory, common myths and historical memories, a mass, public culture, a common economy and common legal rights and duties for all members? (Smith 14). In this definition, it seems that the nation? means the nation-state?. A nation-state implies the congruence of the nation and the state, in other words, the political culture of the state has to be in agreement with the cultural tradition of the nation. In this definition of the nation, it seems that even though A. D. Smith decided not to clearly explicit the need of a common language, the term mass public culture? referred to language. It is important to keep in mind the fact that there can be nations without states but any state without nations and similarly there can be several nations in a given state. When considering the conception of the American nation of the philosopher and historian Hans Kohn, the fact that there can be nations without states is at the origin of his conception of the American nation as a nation of nations?38. This conception of the nation will be explained in the third part of this analysis when accounting for the way U.S ENGLISH has been revisiting American identity.
In order to grasp the role of language in the nation-building process, we need to explicit the difference between the concept of state and nation. In his book National Identity, A. D Smith contrasted the concept of the state to the concept of the nation as follows: a state refers exclusively to public institutions, differentiated from, and autonomous of, other social institutions and exercising a monopoly of coercion and extraction within a given territory? (Smith 14). He defined the nation as a cultural and political bound, uniting in a single political community all who share an historic culture and homeland? (Smith 15). Contrary to J. Stalin, Smith included the notion of political community in the concept of the nation. For the purpose of our analysis, we will work on both conceptions of the nation because as we have seen previously America is a civic nation based on the political union of several independent states and thus the national culture was the result of the culture of the political institutions at the origin of the creation of the nation. Therefore
37 HUTCHINSON, John; SMITH, Anthony. D (ed). Nationalism, New York: Oxford University Press, 1994. Print. p. 18.
38 KOHN, Hans. American Nationalism: An Interpretative Essay, New York: Collier Books, 1961. Print. p. 133-171.
considering the nation as both a political and cultural entity is interesting when dealing with American identity and nationalism as we will see in the third part of this analysis.
Another important aspect that has to be taken into account when measuring the unifying role of language in the creation of nations is the idea of sharing and belonging. Ernest Gellner explained in Nations and Nationalism, that:
According to E. Gellner, it is possible to recognize two members of a given nation according to their culture because he considered that culture is a defining characteristic of nations. Like A.D Smith, E. Gellner acknowledged the political dimension of the nation because the rights and duties? directly referred to the political culture of the state. In this definition what is important is the idea of recognition, belonging and sharing. We will see that at some point U.S ENGLSIH has been denying the presence of some immigrant groups in the nation because of their culture and language ability. In the second part of this analysis, we will wonder whether this denial has been a way to rethink the American nation. In the light of E. Gellner's definition of the nation, it seems that culture and thus language plays an important role in the nation-building process because it is the basis on which it is possible to distinguish two separate nations.
Having explained the role of language in the nation-building process, we need to draw a parallel between the views promoted by U.S ENGLISH and the opinion of commentators about nations and nationalism previously exposed.
As we have seen previously, a nation can be defined as a shared territory, history, economy and culture. Thus, in order to become a nation, a given community needs to share a common history. According to the Britannica Concise Encyclopedia, a language is a system of conventional spoken or written symbols used by people in a shared culture to communicate with each other?40. It is the sharing of a common language that allows the different members of a community to
39 GELLNER, Ernest, Nations and Nationalism, New York: Cornell University Press, 1983. Print. p. 7.
40 "language" Encyclopedia Britanica Online at < http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/329791/language>
communicate thus to share a common history. The history of a nation is closely linked to its language as it is accessed and described through a given language. Hence a first element justifying the importance of the sharing of a common language in the nation-building process as described by U.S ENGLISH.
Similarly, language can be referred to as a 'bridge' that makes communication possible in a given group. A language is a cultural element as it both reflects and affects a culture's way of thinking41?. B. Anderson explained in Imagined Communities that it is the sharing with the metropole of a common language (and common religion and common culture) that had made the first national imaginings possible? ( Anderson 197). Hence the need of a common culture and therefore a common language for nations to emerge. This idea is well summed-up in Karl W. Deutsch`s Nationalism and Social Communication in which he explains that:
The community which permits a common history to be experienced as common, is a community of complementary habits and facilities of communication... The communicative facilities of a society include a socially standardized system of symbols which is a language. ... [What is essential in a nation is] the presence of sufficient communication facilities with enough complementarity to produce the overall result? ( Hutchinson and Smith 26-29).
According to K. W. Deutsch, the sharing of a given language among the different members of a given community is essential to the building of a common history. We can conclude that language is not just a tool for communication that allows the creation of cohesion, shared meanings and understandings within a group, it is also a symbol of heritage and continuity with the past. A nation needs a common past to emerge and history is accessible and expressed through language. All those elements justify the affirmation made by Hayakawa on the need of a common language in the nation-building process. But one may wonder to what extent the sharing of a common language was needed for the American nation to emerge.
If we recall E. Gellner's definition of the nation, membership to the nation implies rights and duties, and thus citizenship. According to E. Gellner, the minimal requirement for full citizenship ... is literacy. But only a nation-size educational system can produce such full citizens... An educational system must operate in some medium... and the language it employs will stamp its products? (Hutchinson and Smith 55). Gellner justified the need of a common language in a nation on the basis that it is the medium through which members of a given community become citizens. For Gellner, it is the sharing of a common culture that allowed people to form a nation and the sharing of a common language through a centralized educational system was required in order to achieve those ends. We will consider the role of schools as identity providers in the third part of this analysis.
41 "language" Encyclopedia Britanica Online at < http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/329791/language>
Contrary to Gellner, Joseph Stalin distinguished between the state and the nation in order to account for the importance of a common language.
What distinguishes a national community from a state community? The fact among others that a national community inconceivable without a common language, while a state need not to have a common language (Hutchinson and Smith 18).
For J. Stalin it seems that the State does not need a common language to function but the national community cannot exist without a common language. It is true to say that language is central to national culture because many countries tend to be officially monolingual. But some writers, like the French philosopher Ernest Renan, considered that the sharing of a common language is not a determining feature of a nation. In his well-known essay entitled What is a nation?» E. Renan wrote:
Language invites people to unite, but it does not force them to do so. The United States and England, Latin America and Spain, speak the same languages yet do not form single nations. There is something in man which is superior to language, namely, the will.42
In 1882, E. Renan pointed at a very important element in the concept of the nation: the willingness. Language is not the main force that binds people together, will can be considered as a major driving force that invites people to unite in a nation. E. Renan considered the nation as a soul?, a ?spiritual principle? so that it was necessary to have common glories in the past and to have a common will in the present; to have performed great deeds together, to wish to perform still more?(Renan 41-55). Hence the notion of continuity, willingness, and the need of a common past in order to build a common future.
As we have seen previously, even though authors differed on the importance of language in the nation-building process, they all acknowledged the role played by language in this process: some considered it as a compulsory requirement, others as an option. In the light of those conclusions, it is debatable whether U.S ENGLISH was right when affirming that it was the sharing of the English language that allowed the creation of the American nation. America being a civic nation invented around political texts that were not exclusively written in the English language, it is very likely that Renan's conception of the role of language in the nation-building process may apply to the American nation. The hypothesis that the American nation emerged as the result of the willingness and commitment to the principles and values defined by the Constitution seems to be the most suitable explanation for the rise and maintenance of the nation.
In this light, we may wonder why U.S ENGLISH once again has been trying to manipulate history in order to promote their cause. A first element of answer can be found in the hypothesis that most of the time the battle for nationhood is a battle for linguistic or cultural hegemony. Language
42 RENAN, Ernest. What is a nation??, 1982, in ELEY, Geoff and SUNY, Ronald Grigor, ed. 1996. Becoming National: A Reader. New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996: pp. 41-55.
is more than a mere cultural element, it also has a political dimension. At this point, our task will be to show to what extent U.S ENGLISH has been manipulating U.S history in order to justify the hegemonic status of the English language in the American nation. The political dimension of language is present in Max Weinreich's famous statement a language is a dialect with an army and a navy?.43 This statement, originally made to highlight the difference between a dialect and a language, is relevant to this analysis because it accounts for the power relationship between the different languages in presence in a nation. Hegemony is the arbitrary political, economic, ideological or cultural dominance of one group over another group. This concept was first developed by the philosopher and political theorist Antonio Gramsci in the 1970s. It is the ability in certain historical periods of the dominant classes to exercise social and cultural leadership and by these means maintain their power over the economic, political, and cultural direction of the nation?.44 For A. Gramsci, the dominant classes exercise their leadership by imposing their culture as the norm in order to maintain their power over the nation. This dominance can be considered an arbitrary one, to the extent that the choice of the hegemonic leadership is not based on any objective criteria. It is a kind of cultural imperialism. It consists in the imposition of a given group's way of life, its language and bureaucracies, to make formal its dominance in order to transform external domination into an abstraction, because power is not in any leader?.45 Hegemony can be considered the arbitrary hidden dominance of one group over others. U.S ENGLISH may have been trying to reinforce and confirm the hegemony of the English language in the American nation by presenting English as the historical language of the land and by declaring that it was the basis on which the nation emerged because of its strong unifying power.
In the United States, the common belief that English is the de facto national language of the nation is the result of the hegemony of the Anglo-Saxon culture. As the definition of 'hegemony' highlights, it is an arbitrary dominance. The American nation turned out to be an English speaking country because of this phenomenon. U.S ENGLISH acknowledged the hegemony of English in the United States by referring to the English language as the language of the majority? (Annex XVIII). In fact, the use of the word majority? to characterize the status of English is very significant of the views of the organization on this hegemonic relation. In their fund raising brochure, even though U.S ENGLISH explained that the choice of the English language was arbitrary, they seemed to be satisfied with this state of affair as they stated that:
As much by accident as by design, that language is English. Given our country's history of
43 BLOOM, Paul, Explaining Language Diversity?, Review, American Scientists: The Scientific Research society, July-August 2002, Web. 3 March 2010. n.p.
44 O'SULIVAN, Tim; HARTLY, John; SAUNDERS, Danny; FISKE, John, Key Concepts in Communication, London, New York: Routledge, 1993 (5th edition), 270 pages. Print. p. 102-103.
immigration and the geography of immigrant settlements, it might have been Dutch, or Spanish, or German; or it might have been two languages, as is the case in Canada... But English prevailed, and has served us well. ... English is a world language which we share with many other nations. It is the most popular medium of international communication. Its eloquence shines in our Declaration of Independence and in our Constitution. It is the living carrier or our democratic ideals (Annex III).
The hegemony of English in the United States is presented as both an accident? as well as the result of a particular purpose. The dichotomy between those two terms highlights the unwillingness of the movement to recognize that state of affair. But still, U.S English has been presenting the English language as an eloquent?, a high language? that shines?. Furthermore they have also been recalling their audience that English is a powerful language by saying that it is a world language?. Similarly, as we have seen previously, U.S ENGLISH considered that it was historic forces [that] made English the language of all Americans?.
Before moving to the analysis of the relationship between language culture and identity, it is
important to note that even though U.S ENGLISH has been fighting to protect the English language
for more than twenty five years, they have been supporting the view that any particular form of
English should prevail. On their official website, on October 2009 they declared that:
English remains an evolving language, and while it may take us a moment to understand sneakers vs. tennis shoes, or bubbler vs. water fountain, or trunk vs. boot, we believe that these national and regional variances do little to hinder communication, and are much preferred to a standardizing board or academy.46
Their rejection of a standardizing board or academy? may find its origin in John Adams' failure to create a National Language Academy in 1780 as we have seen at the beginning of this part.
Our analysis will now turn to the rhetoric of the movement. The relation between language, culture, and national identity will be demonstrated in the light of the documents published by the movement between 1981 and 2009 as well as the views of anthropologists and sociologists. In this part, our focus will be on their views about language: the visual message of their advertisements as well as their views about immigration will be studied in the next part of this paper.
U.S English has been pretending that a common language can unify; separate languages can fracture and fragment a society? (Annex I, l.1-2). Furthermore, U.S ENGLISH referred to the English language as a patriotic symbol as it has dissolved distrust and fears? in the past (Annex IV, l.128). In other words, U.S ENGLISH strategy has been to present language as a symbolic unifier.
46 U.S ENGLISH official website at < http://www.usenglish.org/view/715>
In this part, we will attempt at describing the rhetoric of the movement as well as the relationship between language culture, and identity.
First of all, it is important to note that U.S ENGLISH has been overemphasizing the unifying force of language in their different publications since 1983. In fact, in almost all their publications one can read that language is a unifying instrument which binds people together? (Annex II, l.17-18), or that one language is one of the most important things we have tying us together?(Annex II, l.39-40). Language has also been described as our common heritage? (Annex III, l.21) or as our strongest national bond? (Annex III, l.95-96) or as the tie that binds together our nation of immigrants?(Annex XI). Thus, U.S ENGLISH has been considering language as central to American national identity as our analysis of their views will show in the third part of this analysis. The movement has been using metaphors like a tie?, a bond? or a unifying instrument? to define the English language in order to justify the need for the amendment they have been proposing. Language is determinant to our identity because we define ourselves through it and also because we tend to identify with the other members of our language community. A. D Smith explained that:
The members of a particular group are alike in just those respects in which they differ from nonmembers outside the group. Members dress, and eat in similar ways, and thus speak the same language; in all these respects they differ from the non members, who dress, eat and, speak in different ways. This pattern of similarity-cum-dissimilarity is one meaning of national 'identity'(Smith 75).
In other words, people tend to define themselves by emphasizing what differentiate them from others. In A.D Smith's definition, identity means 'sameness' and language can be an element on which people can base their identity. Thus, language is a marker of cultural identity that allows people to distinguish members from outsiders of a given community. In this light, U.S ENGLISH by overemphasizing the unifying role of language in their different publications established the link between one's language and one's identity. We will see further on that this technique was also a way to reject or to refrain non-members from entering the national community.
By stressing the power language had in the creation and maintenance of national cohesion and unity, U.S ENGLISH has been trying to convince his audience of the vital need the nation has to protect this cultural characteristic. U.S ENGLISH has been claiming that a common language is absolutely vital for keeping this nation of some 150 different languages together? (Annex VII) and that it is one common language that has united a diverse nation and fostered harmony among its people? (Annex III, l.4). By describing American identity as based on the speaking of the English language, U.S ENGLISH has been trying to recall the link between one's language and one's identity so that those who do not speak English will be considered as only 'half-Americans'. By
overemphasizing the role of language in the identity-building process, U.S ENGLISH has been elevating English as a national symbol. But it has been proved previously that there are no official language legislation in the U.S because the Founding Fathers thought that what mattered was individual freedom and liberty. Those considerations will have to be taken into account when defining to what extent U.S ENGLISH has been re-imagining the nation through the media.
The centrality of language at the heart of the rhetoric of U.S ENGLISH allowed them to pretend that, contrary to what J. Stalin considered and similarly to what Ernest Gellner thought, a common language is essential for democracy to function because they have been considering that democracy, more than any other system of government, requires the people and their elected representatives communicate with each other? (Annex VIII). For U.S ENGLISH, the speaking and understanding of English language should be a condition for naturalization. They wrote in 1985 that English should be a condition of statehood incumbent upon all territories aspiring to that status? (Annex IV, l.347-349). The mastering of English language as a condition for naturalization and the implications of an English Language Amendment for citizenship and minority rights will be studied later on in this analysis. Language being characteristic of a particular culture, there is a close relationship between the language one speaks and his identity. But more than one ethnic or cultural group shares the same language. The speaking of a particular language is not the main distinctive feature to group membership. E. Renan asked: Can one not have the same sentiments and the same thoughts, and love the same things in different languages?? (Renan 41-55). At a national level, language alone cannot determine the identity of a nation because as Renan pointed out the United States and England, Latin America and Spain, speak the same languages yet do not form single nations? (Renan 41-55).
Different nations have different cultures even if they share the same language and, as we have seen previously, language invites people to unite but does not force them to do so? (Renan 41-55). What allows different nations who speak the same language to differentiate one from another is the fact that each nation has a unique culture. In anthropology, a culture is the sum total of ways of living built up by a group of human beings and transmitted from one generation to another? (Smith 75). The ways of living? of a given culture derives from the traditions, beliefs, ideas, customs, and language of a particular group. The traditions, beliefs, ideas, and customs of a given nation, which Herder calls national genius 47, is what allowed different nations to emerge out of a common language.
As we have seen before U.S ENGLISH has been proposing an official language legislation
47 According to Herder, every nation has its peculiar genius, its own ways of thinking, acting and communicating....? quoted in SMITH, Anthony D. National Identity, Reno and Las Vegas: University of Nevada Press, 1991. Print. p. 75.
for the American nation on the basis that language is central to American identity and because democracy requires a common language to function. But they have also been presenting official language legislation as a way to insure equal access to the power and resources of the nation as well as equal opportunity for all.
The motto of U.S ENGLISH is the language of equal opportunity?. At first sight, this motto directly recalls the Affirmative Action laws that were passed in the 1960s for African Americans under President J.F. Kennedy. Those laws marked the end of discriminations based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin. The choice of the motto of U.S ENGLISH certainly aimed at giving a positive image to the amendment they have been promoting because as it recalls Affirmative Action, one may think that this organization advocated Civil Rights. In one of their publications they wrote that a common language leads to increased racial and ethnic understanding and acceptance? (Annex VIII & XI). This pro-Civil Rights image was a communication strategy used by U.S ENGLISH to give weight to their cause because it was on this basis that they have been pretending that bilingual ballots and multilingual services provided by the U.S government were wasteful.
Furthermore, another element at the heart of the rhetoric of U.S ENGLISH is that they have been describing official language legislation as a key for the advancement of immigrants. On this point, Hayakawa explained that:
Participation in the common language has rapidly made available to each new group the political and economic benefits of the American society. Those who have mastered English have overcome the major hurdle to full participation in our democracy? (Annex I, l.6-8).
U.S ENGLISH has been claiming that the knowledge of English is the key to social advancement in order to present the knowledge of English as a requirement for all those who want to fulfill the promise made to immigrants by the American Dream. Language is described as the tool that allows the advancement and empowerment of immigrants, the only way to progress in the socio-economic ladder. Similarly, U.S ENGLISH has been overemphasizing the role of language in the assimilation process by describing it as the key to successful assimilation. Both Hayakawa and Mujica personally acknowledged the key role of language in the assimilation process as, in 1985, Hayakawa wrote : I learned more about what studying English meant to many Japanese houseboys in San Francisco in the early 1900s?(Annex IV, l.299-300). Mujica wrote in 1994: I knew that to succeed I would have to adopt the language of my new home?(Annex XII, l.2-3). This last aspect at the core of the rhetoric of U.S ENGLISH will be analyzed when accounting for their views on immigration in the second part of this analysis. Similarly the role of the occupational status in defining ones' identity will be studied in the third part of this analysis.
We have seen that U.S ENGLISH has been using language both as a symbol and as a
practical tool for the advancement of immigrants in the nation. Our analysis will now turn to the question of bilingualism. In the next part, we will explain to what extent U.S ENGLISH has been considering multilingualism as destructive and unhealthy?.