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
As we have seen previously when accounting for the context for the rise of the U.S ENGLISH movement, two major legislative actions that were taken in the mid 1960s led to the emergence of this lobbying organization. In this part, our aim will be to show the implications of a rejection of bilingualism for the American nation.
Before accounting for their rejection of bilingualism it is interesting to explain what attitude they have been showing towards minority languages. In 1988, Smolicz and Secombe proposed a typology of the four broad approaches people have to minority languages48. They distinguished the negative evaluation of language? from indifference?, that is to say showing no interest in language maintenance (Smolicz & Secombe 215-216; May 137). They also distinguished the general positive evaluation?, that is to say when people consider language as a vital element of ethnicity but are not prepared to learn it personally, from the personal positive evaluation?, regarding language as a core value and putting this language commitment into practice (Smolicz & Secombe 215-216; May 137).. In the light of this typology, U.S ENGLISH on the one hand can be said to have showed indifference toward minority languages because they have been supporting the view that minorities should transfer into English as quickly as possible, and on the other hand, they have been showing a personal positive evaluation towards the English speaking population through the proposal of an English language Amendment to the Constitution. An evidence of their dedication to the English language can be found in the fact that they have been trying to impose it as the national language of the nation.
As we have seen previously, U.S ENGLISH has been presenting the English language as a symbolic unifier but they have also been presenting linguistic diversity as unhealthy? and even destructive? (Annex IV, l. 364). They have been justifying their rejection of bilingual education, multilingual ballots, U.S citizenship ceremonies and driver's license tests in foreign languages by pointing at the cost and effectiveness of those multilingual services provided by the U.S government. Indeed, they considered that in order to become a citizen, one have to master the
48 MAY, Stephen. Language and Minority Rights: Ethnicity, Nationalism and the Politics of Language, New York: Routledge, 2008. Print. p. 137.
SMOLICZ, J.J; SECOMBE, M.J. On Education and Culture, Albert Park: James Nicholas Publishers, 1999. Google Book Search. Web. 2 March 2010. p. 215-216.
English language and it was on this basis that they accused government funded multilingual services of being a waste of money and energy? (Annex XVI). They have been rejecting bilingual education because they considered it as a way to maintain immigrants' native language instead of transferring them into English. For U.S ENGLISH in the United States only emergency services and foreign language teaching should be conducted in another language than English.
In order to account of this rejection of bilingualism, a reference to the typology of language of the Professor Richard Ruiz, specialist of sociocultural studies, is required. In 1984, in Orientations and Language Planning, he defined language as a problem, a resource, and a right?. According to Ruiz, language can be considered as a problem? when it causes difficulties of communication between the speakers of different language-communities. U.S ENGLISH has been considering that language diversity in the United States was a threat to our national unity? (Annex III, l.86). The movement has been presenting language both as a problem and as a solution. On the one hand, they have been claiming that only a common language allows people to unite because it is a way to overcome the cultural diversity of the nation, hence the concept of language as a solution, and on the other hand, that language is a barrier that has to be overcome or a problem that has to be solved in order to achieve unity. U.S ENGLISH has been charging against language diversity on the basis that it limits integration, cohesiveness, and even causes segregation? in the American nation (Annex III, l.15). Their rejection of bilingualism finds its origins in this conception of language as a problem.
As our analysis of the rhetoric of the U.S ENGLISH movement has showed, they have been promoting the learning of a second language for economic reasons or for the tourism but they have been rejecting bilingualism at a national level. There is a paradox in their rhetoric because they have been depreciating bilingual education to support minority languages while appreciating English speakers who learn a second language for the economy or world politics. On this point, Professor of Curriculum and Instruction and Educational Leadership and Policy Studies, Carlos J. Ovando said in 1990 that the U.S language policy was schizophrenic? because on the one hand, we encourage and promote the study of foreign languages for English monolinguals, at great cost and with great inefficiency. At the same time, we destroy the linguistic gifts that children from non-English language backgrounds bring to our schools?49. According to Carlos Ovando, the speaking of different languages is a gift or a resource and national language legislation would be an economic, social and cultural waste.
At this point of the analysis, it is necessary to keep in mind that the language diversity U.S ENGLISH has been rejecting in their different publications is mainly due to the different waves of
49 BAKER, Collin; PRYS JONES, Sylvia. Encyclopedia of Bilingualism and Bilingual Education, Avon (U.K): Clevedon Multilingual Matters, 1998. Print. p. 276.
immigration to the U.S. In fact, immigrants even after having accomplished the assimilation process, which consists in adopting the language and culture of the majority, still spoke their mother tongue when with other members of their linguistic community. U.S ENGLISH has been denouncing the fact that since the beginning of the 1980s immigrants were no longer assimilating the American culture and language. In most of their publications, one can read that there are millions of people living in America who don't speak English well enough to dial 911... and who are not on the road to doing so?(Annex VI, l.37-39). Contrary to what they have been claiming and even if it was true that not all immigrants ended up speaking English, most of them adopted the majority language and still used their native language in the private sphere, at home for instance.
The ability immigrants have in them mastering at least two languages corresponds to the notion of language as a resource? in Ruiz's typology of language. For Ruiz, language can be considered as a national resource? to be exploited (Smolicz & Secombe 215-216; May 137). According to Ruiz, the language ability of immigrants has to be used for trade or to promote tourism in the country because it is a free resource. The government saves money because immigrants do not need to be taught a foreign language as they are themselves native speakers of another tongue than English. U.S ENGLISH has always denounced the cost of bilingualism for the Federal government but has never invited immigrants to take advantage of their language ability.
Instead of put aside, U.S ENGLISH has invited immigrants to forget? their native tongue in order to become fully American. In April 1981 in a speech in support for both an amendment to immigration legislation and for an English Language Amendment Hayakawa said that the United States is a land of immigration from every corner of the world, that has been strengthened and unified because its newcomers have historically chosen ultimately to forgot their native language for the English language? (Annex I, l.63-64). In this sentence Hayakawa affirmed that immigrants have to abandon their native tongue in order to transfer into the English language. His rejection of bilingualism goes beyond what Ruiz described in his typology of language as a problem?. In Ruiz`s typology, language is described as a problem because of the lack of communication and understanding brought by the speaking of different tongues within a given nation. For Hayakawa, it seems that, more than just learning the language of the majority, forgetting one's native tongue is necessary for the nation to be unified. In a way, U.S ENGLISH maintained that unity in a nation was synonymous with uniformity and similarity.
Their rejection of bilingualism can also be found in the fact that they actively promote monolingualism at a national level. Several times U.S ENGLISH quoted Theodore Roosevelt`s 1927 speech wartime appeal famous and controversial words he made in 1927 in his speech entitled Children of the Crucible? to promote monolingualism at national level. Th. Roosevelt said: We have room for but one language here, and that is the English language? (Annex IV, l.514-516). In
this sentence the message is clear: U.S ENGLISH has been promoting English as the national language of the United States while rejecting and condemning the use of any other language in the nation.
On this point the views of the movement were not clear cut. On the one hand they have been claiming that they had no quarrel with immigrants speaking their native tongue in the private sphere and on the other hand, they have been defending English as the sole language of the United States. In their fund raising brochure published in 1984, U.S ENGLISH wrote that U.S ENGLISH serves as a national center for consultation and cooperation on ways to defend English as the sole language of the United States?(Annex III, l.75-76). From this one can understand that there is or there should be only one language in the United States, namely English, or that only English, and no other language, should be the official language of the United States. This statement is ambiguous but it is very likely that the movement was claiming that there has to be only one language in the United States as their strong rejection of bilingualism testifies. This kind of affirmation was only published once by the movement which since that time has always said that they are not suggesting that people shouldn't hold on to their native languages? (Annex XIX) or that U.S ENGLISH encourages all to speak their native tongues but not at the expense of English? (Annex VII). Since the late 1980s, U.S ENGLISH has been under attack from their opponents on the basis that they were said to promote an English only? nation. U.S ENGLISH refuted those accusations by publishing documents in which one can read: We have never been - and no serious person is suggesting that we become - an 'English only' nation? (Annex VI, l.48) or that they are not proponents of English Only? as [their] detractors falsely claim? (Annex XI).
The rhetoric of U.S ENGLISH itself is a rather schizophrenic because on the one hand they claimed that an English language amendment was needed because immigrants were not assimilating the American culture as they used to do and on the other hand, they claimed that this amendment was needed because immigrants want and need to learn English? (Annex XVII). It seems that any reason was good to justify the enactment of their English Language Amendment. But one may wonder why they used such a technique. A partial answer to this question can be found in the fact that they not only appealed to English speaking Americans who worried about the fact that immigrants were resisting assimilation but also to willing immigrants who wanted to be recognized as trying to learn the English language. Similarly, they have been generally rejecting bilingual publications made by the government but they produced an advertising campaign in Spanish in 1989 in the Albany Times- Union in which we can see a letter written by a Spanish family to the Regents of the Educational System of the state of New York on which one can read:
We speak to you in Spanish because we don't speak English
enough to write to you in that language. We
suggests increasing the teaching in Spanish instead of in English. We don't want our children to receive their education in Spanish. If they learn mainly in Spanish, they'll be in the same situation of disadvantage as we are (Annex IX, l.6-12).
U.S ENGLISH entitled this advertisement as follows: If you can't read this add, don't feel badly. Our children can't read this book? (Annex IX). The book in question is Treasure Island from Robert Stevenson, a famous American book. This title is ironical because they have been rejecting bilingual education through the publication of a bilingual advertisement. Similarly, in this advertisement U.S ENGLISH both appealed to non-English speaking people who want to learn the language of the majority and to Americans who felt that immigrants were not assimilating anymore.
Now that the origins and consequences of U.S ENGLISH rejection of language diversity at national level have been highlighted, our analysis will now turn to the implications of the imposition of a national language legislation for the American nation in the light of Anderson's definition of the nation as an imagined political community?(Anderson 6).