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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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Throughout this case study of the U.S ENGLISH movement, we have demonstrated that this advocacy group which sprang up from an upsurge for minority rights coupled with high immigration rate has aspired to declare English the official language of the nation. Lobbying plays an important role in the United States because not only U.S ENGLISH but also Pro-English? and English-First? put pressure on decision makers and public opinion. The duality between unity and diversity, nationality and national identity, citizenship and ethnic consciousness, and majority and minority cultures and languages in U.S ENGLISH`s rhetoric has been explained and documented. It has been said that those lobbying organizations have been more successful at State than at Federal level. In November 2010, it will be the turn of Oklahoma to decide whether or not they will become the thirty-first State to pass official language legislation. In April 2009, this legislation passed Senate with a 44-2 margin and on 6th May 2009, the Oklahoma House of Representatives voted 89-8 on a measure that provides for a public referendum on whether or not to make English the official language of the state.

It is not without significance that since the 1980s U.S ENGLISH has been using the media to promote their official language legislation because both the media and language play on people`s need for an identity and had an important role in the nation-building process. A detailed analysis of their rhetoric and communication strategies in the light of U.S history and the latest population censuses rendered false the eminent linguistic division that they have been presenting in their different publications. U.S ENGLISH has been introducing itself as pro-immigrant and pro-America using both logical and emotional appeals as our investigation of their promotional material has pointed out. On several occasions they have been using national symbols of unity both as banal reminders of people`s identity and as patriotic and nationalist feeling enhancers.

U.S ENGLISH has been proved to be a strong nationalist movement aiming more at social control than social integration. Throughout this analysis we have measured to what extent U.S ENGLISH has been re-imagining the American nation in their different publications. First, their willingness to amend the Constitution was an undisguised way to modify and redefine the American nation. It has been demonstrated that the imposition of a national language would dramatically alter the style in which the nation was first conceived by the Founding Fathers and would have a strong impact on democracy and minority rights.

U.S ENGLISH has also re-imagined the nation by overemphasizing the size and influence of the Hispanic community in the U.S. Another element accounting for the way they have been re-imagining the American nation via the media is their rejection of Hispanics and unskilled immigrants. The organization has been turning language into a civic duty by trying to make the learning of English a compulsory requirement for naturalization and identification with the nation. The latent redefinition of American identity at the heart of U.S ENGLISH`s rhetoric can be assimilated to a modern form of nativism as their rejection of multiculturalism as an ideology and their praise for incorporationism through the celebration of the melting-pot as a national ideal testified.

In their promotional material U.S ENGLISH has been comparing the linguistic situation in Canada, Sri Lanka or Belgium to that of the United States. However, it is more accurate to compare the status of English in the United States and in the United Kingdom. In fact, English is likewise the de facto official language of those two countries. Similarly, both the UK and the US have huge linguistic and cultural diversity due to immigration and in the case of the UK, a colonial past. But in the United Kingdom contrary to the United States, there have never been any lobbying organizations that aim at declaring English the official language. In fact, the United Kingdom is the result of the political union of Wales and England with a series of parliamentary measures between 1536-1543, known under the name of the Laws in Wales Acts, and the political union of the kingdom of England and the kingdom of Scotland with the Acts of Union of 1707, and finally Ireland with the Act of Union of 1801.The United Kingdom is thus a state governed by a constitutional monarchy and a parliamentary system: England, Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland are nations through devolution with a certain independence but British by their common loyalty to the crown. In the United Kingdom, the monarchy symbolized by the Queen is a strong identity-provider for British people because of the power of the former British Empire and the symbolical role the Queen plays on the political institutions. It is important to note that the size and influence of the British Empire is at the origin of the hegemony of English in the United States but also in the world. During the colonial period, Britain colonized most of the South and East of Africa, Australia, India, and Northern America including Canada. Colons brought with them their language and culture, and most of the time, English became the dominant language of the land even after decolonization and independence. In this light, one may wonder why there is no official language legislation in the United Kingdom. An element of answer can be found in the fact that the UK is composed of four distinct nations in which official recognition was given to regional languages such as Irish, Ulster Scots, Scottish Gaelic, Scots, Welsh and

Cornish. The recognition of official regional languages and the strong identity-providing role of those nations may be the reasons why no similar organizations as U.S ENGLISH were formed to declare English the official language of the UK. Furthermore, the United Kingdom has an unwritten constitution and this is why there is no official legislation for the British nation. Even though the nature of the British and the American state is different because the United States is a federation like Germany and the United Kingdom is a unitary state, the comparison between those two types of states is interesting because both the US and the UK have to deal with the huge linguistic and cultural diversity brought by immigrants. In this light, a comparative study of those two countries would be interesting for further research.

In addition to what we have demonstrated throughout this analysis, it would have been interesting to conduct surveys to determine what drove the members of U.S ENGLISH to this movement in order to better account for what the support for this movement tells us about American identity. The question of the best way to integrate immigrants raised by this analysis is also very difficult to answer but the analysis of this official English movement has proved that the two normative visions of the American nation have limits and are not appropriate to account for the way immigrants become Americans. Both cultural pluralism and Anglo-conformity fail to provide an answer to this question.

In conclusion, we can assert that language legislation was a pretext for restrictions in immigration and the re-imagining of the nation. For sure, linguistic homogeneity would certainly strengthen national unity but it would also profoundly modify the American character because of the political implications that lie beneath U.S ENGLISH`s proposal. The hegemony of English in the United States is not under threat as they have been pretending in their different publications. According to Eric J. Hobsbawm the questioning of the hegemony of English in the United States is political paranoia?120. Contrary to E. J. Hobsbawm, Arthur Schlesinger considered that the idea that English needs a legislative protection in the United States is the sign of a lack of faith in the future of this language121.

120 HOBSBAWM, E.J. Nations and Nationalism since 1780: Program, Myth, Reality, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990. Print. p.171.

121 SCHLESINGER, Arthur. i. L'Amérique Balkanisée: une société multiculturelle désunie, 2nd edition, Paris: Economica, 1999. Print. p. 127.




General Works 114

Specialized Works 115

Immigration 115

Nationalism and National Identity 117

Bilingualism and Language Policy 120

Media and Communication 124

Dictionaries and Encyclopedias 125


Speeches, Addresses, Hearings, Monograph

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---. «The Purpose and Effect of an Official English Constitutional Amendment», Congressional Record, U.S Senate, 27 April 1981. Speech. U.S English, Washington D.C. Print.

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U.S ENGLISH. In Defense of Our Common Language...?, in CRAWFORD, James ed, Language Loyalties: A source Book on the Official English Controversy, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1992, pp. 143-147. Print.


U.S ENGLISH. It can't Happen Here.(Or can it?)?. Advertisement. Late 1980s. U.S English, Washington D.C. Print.

. 14 Nations call English their national language. We're not one of them?. Advertisement. Late 1980s. U.S English, Washington D.C. Print.

---. If you can't read this ad don't feel badly. Our children can't read this book?.
Advertisement. Albany Times-Union. 1989. U.S English, Washington D.C. Print.

. On Tuesday you can tell Congress where to go?. Advertisement. USA Today. 30 Oct 1992. U.S English, Washington D.C. Print.

---. It's time to focus on what unites us as a people, as opposed to what divides us?. Advertisement. Jan 1993. U.S English, Washington D.C. Print.

. Why a Hispanic heads an organization called U.S English?. Advertisement. 1994. U.S English, Washington D.C. Print.

---. To make it in America you need to speak my language?. Advertisement. 1995. U.S English, Washington D.C. Print.

---. Stop the madness?. Advertisement. 1996. U.S English, Washington D.C. Print.

---. I need to learn English?. Advertisement. 1997. U.S English, Washington D.C. Print.

---. Should our government operate in a foreign language??. Advertisement. 1994. Web. 4 Dec 2009. < >

. Immigrants want and need to learn English. It's time politicians got the message?. Advertisement. 1994. Web. 4 Dec 2009. < >

----. Immigrants who don't learn English can really clean up in America?. Advertisement. 2008. Web. 4 Dec 2009. < >

. Will it come to this?? Advertisement. 1999. Web. 4 Dec 2009. < >

---. One more way the federal government is making doctors sick?. Advertisement. 2007. Web. 4 Dec 2009. < >

Financial reports

Return of Organization Exempt from Income Tax?, U.S ENGLISH Foundation, 2000, Form

990, U.S Department of Treasury, Media Matters Action. Web. 1 May 2010. <


Return of Organization Exempt from Income Tax?, U.S ENGLISH Foundation, 2006, Form

990, U.S Department of Treasury, Media Matters Action. Web. 1 May 2010. <


Return of Organization Exempt from Income Tax?, U.S ENGLISH Foundation, 2007, Form

990, U.S Department of Treasury, Media Matters Action. Web. 1 May 2010. <



U.S ENGLISH. Official website. Web. 4 Dec 2009. <>


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Media and Communication


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