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The lobbying of the u.s english movement since 1983: a campaign via the media in quest of national unity

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par Victoria Riposseau
Université de Nantes - Maitrise IRT Anglais 2010

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3. U.S ENGLSIH 36\PEI4 NItivisP'

Before dealing with the modern form of nativism showed by U.S ENGLISH, one needs to make a deeper analysis of the National English Language Foundation that they proposed in the mid 1980s.

In support for his proposal, Hayakawa explained that such a foundation would devise improved programs for language instruction by television or radio- and broadcast them. It can open English-language centers in communities where none exist, offering day and evening classes to all who wish them. Unfettered by the conventional requirements of credentials and diplomas, such a Foundation can use novel methods, find teaching talent in unlikely people, and explore new approaches to the great problems involved? (Annex IV, l. 421-426).

In other words, Hayakawa proposed to use the media and even to find new teaching methods to educate non-English speakers. The use of broadcast can be considered a large scale educational program. But, contrary to institutional programs such as those proposed by schools, such a proposal makes the learning of the majority language less formal, more indirect and available to all. Television and radio are mediums through which the English language is omnipresent in America and broadcast lessons can be a way to indirectly educate those who feel the need to improve their English proficiency but it is clear that it can not force them to do so. Such programs would be symbolic invitations to learn the language of the


As we have seen in part two, the media plays on each individual need for an identity. Furthermore, the media can create a sense of national community because it projects an image of the norm and thus allows individuals to determine their status and role in society. The broadcast of English language lessons on television or on the radio can also put pressure on the non-English speaking part of the U.S population. U.S ENGLISH has been trying to use the integrating power of the media to both makes immigrant feel the need to conform to the reality and to convince English speaking Americans that everything is actually made for immigrants to transfer into English. In fact, the speaking of the English language being the norm projected by those media, those who are not fluent in this language may feel isolated or even rejected from the national community projected by the media. In this light, the broadcasting of English lessons may lead to discrimination from English-speaking people towards non-English speaking people on the basis that those who really want to learn can do it because of this free and large scale broadcast that makes English lessons available to all. It is very likely that those who are illiterate, young children or those who did not manage to learn through those programs will be pointed at and rejected by the national community because of their incapacity to conform to the norm that would then be interpreted as as a lack of involvement in the nation or as a voluntary attempt to impose their culture on the American culture or simply as unwillingness. In addition to this, Hayakawa proposed to create day and evening classes in English-language centers where these kind of institutions did not exist. In fact, those English-language centers can be considered as nationwide educational programs to transfer as soon as possible non-English speakers into the mainstream language exactly like the nativists of the 1900s proposed earlier.

Since the mid 1990s, U.S ENGLISH created a partnership with Mingoville, a website dedicated to the learning of the English language. Once again, by offering free and unlimited English lessons, U.S ENGLISH has been trying to put pressure on immigrants who have trouble learning the majority language. An overemphasis on the huge number of classes and other programs to learn the English language available for immigrants was another strategy to discriminate against them.

One of U.S ENGLISH communication strategies has been to pretend to make the learning of the majority language accessible to everyone, but in fact this technique resulted in the stigmatization of those who cannot, for any reason, join the mainstream culture. They have been trying to use the television, the radio and even the internet as large scale educational programs but instead of encouraging immigrants to learn the English language, it

is very likely those large scale programs may increase discrimination against that part of the US population.

At this point it is necessary to define the term nativism. Nativism is a type of revitalization movement aimed at perpetuating, restoring, or reviving traditional? cultural practices or characteristics, which are thought to be the source of the group`s strength and to be threatened or lost?.110 In the American context, nativism was a 19th century concept of the nation that favored the interest of Americans over immigrants. In 1882, considering that Chinese immigrants were both physically and culturally incompatible with the Anglo-Saxon Protestant culture, Congress passed the Chinese Exclusion Act, an act that outlawed immigration from China until 1952. Similarly, during the First World War, the German's attachment to their native tongue and the war led to the enactment of anti-German laws and English-only legislation in several States. Nativism is thus an extreme form of Americanism based on the fear that new immigrants threaten the norms and values of the American society. Nativists can then be said to act as guardians of the American culture? from an alien invasion.

By presenting English as the only way to achieve unity in the nation, U.S ENGLISH has been overemphasizing the historical role of the English language in the American nation and even rejecting non-English speakers in the name of public good. Through a manipulation of the national symbols of unity, they have been presenting their English Language Amendment to the U.S Constitution as a symbolic protection of the American culture, but in fact they have been using language to discriminate against minorities, presenting ethnicity as a social and economical handicap to overcome if one want to take part in the American nation. U.S ENGLISH had had a reductionist attitude towards minority languages because they have been discouraging the maintenance and promotion of immigrants' ethnic identity and language. For all those reasons, we can consider that U.S ENGLISH is a nativist organization that fights to protect and defend the hegemony of the American culture in the nation. In his essay The 'American Creed' and American identity: the limits of liberal citizenship in the United States?, Robert Smith considered this attitude as symbol nativism?.111 According to Robert Smith, symbol nativism? is a modern and indirect way to express anti-immigrant feelings.

110 ELLER, Jack. D. Cultural Anthropology: Global Forces, Local Lives, New York: Routlegde, 2009, Web. 5 March 2010. n.p.

111 SCHILDKRAUT, Deborah. J. American Identity and Attitudes toward Official-English Policies?, Political Psychology, Vol. 24, No. 3, International Society of Political Psychology, September 2003, pp. 469-499 , JSTOR. Web. 14 March 2010. p.497.

In the last part of this analysis, we will first consider how U.S ENGLISH has been playing with different concepts of American national identity before trying to determine to what extent U.S ENGLISH re-imagined American identity. Then, we will attempt to determine what the support for this organization tells us about American identity.

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