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. Amending the Constitution: a New Conception of the Nation
U.S ENGLISH has been trying to pass an Official English Amendment to the U.S Constitution for more than twenty five years and this section of the analysis aims at exploring to what extent the organization has been re-imagining the American nation by doing so. In other words, what are the implications of the enactment of official language legislation for the nation?
As the beginning of our analysis has proved, the Founding Fathers deliberately did not want to impose an official language in the nation because of the right the American nation gave to individuals to decide for themselves and also because of the plural dimension of the nation. But the Founding Fathers were also aware that in the founding texts some changes may be necessary in the future as the nation would grow. The American nation has the possibility to reinvent itself around the constant values defined by the Constitution and this is essential for a nation to survive in front of the rise globalization or supra-nationalism.
Modifying the Constitution is not an easy task. Amending the Constitution requires two stages. First the amendment needs be proposed, then it has to be ratified. In order to propose an amendment, two thirds of the votes in each house are required and it then has to be ratified by three-fourths of the states before becoming an Amendment to the US Constitution. Over 10,000 constitutional amendments have been introduced in Congress since 1789 and for several decades,
between 100 and 200 have been offered in a typical congressional year50. Those figures highlight the fact that amending the Constitution is and has always been a long and complicated process. It is through this process that U.S ENGLISH has been trying to amend the Constitution and proposed an amendment to the Constitution. In the last sub-section of this part, an analysis will account for the failure to pass the said amendment.
In 1983, Benedict Anderson, Professor of International Studies, was the author of Imagined Communities, a book in which he studied the process that lead to the creation and spread of nations. According to Anderson, the nation is an imagined political community - and imagined as both inherently limited and sovereign? (Anderson 6). He explained that it is an imagined community because the members of even the smallest nation will never know most of their fellow members, meet them, or even hear from them, yet in the minds of each lives the image of their communion? (Anderson 6). He considered that communities are to be distinguished not by their falsity/genuineness, but by the style in which they are imagined? (Anderson 6). In other words, for B. Anderson, each nation has a particular style, some unique characteristics that allow the distinction between the several nations of the world.
In the case of the American nation, that particular trait is the civic nationalism. In the United States, it was the sharing of civic institutions that led to the creation of the American nation. The civic institutions of the nation derive from the American Constitution. It was under the Constitution that America as a political community was born. America found its cohesion in that founding text that went beyond ethnic, racial or religious consideration allowing anybody who wanted to be part of the nation to become an American citizen because as we have seen at the beginning of this part, the United States of America is a civic nation. The unique trait of the American nation lied in the idea of individual freedom and the image of [this] communion? is its Constitution.
Even though more than one hundred and fifty foreign languages? were spoken in the United States as U.S ENGLISH pointed out in their advertising campaign of the late 1980s(Annex VII), the American nation was mainly English-speaking as only 1.3 % of the population did not speak English at all in 2000 according to the US Census Bureau (Crawford 2002). America can be said to be an English-speaking country, even without the enactment of official language legislation, because 82.1% of its population only speaks English (Crawford 2002).
The question raised by this analysis is what the consequences of the imposition of official language legislation would be if passed more than two hundred years after the nation was first imagined. We may wonder to what extent an amendment to the US Constitution can be considered as a direct modification of the style? in which the nation was first invented or imagined. In other
50 KRUSCH, Barry. The 21st Century Constitution: new America for a New Millennium, New York: Stanhope Press, 1992. Web. 7 April 2010. p. 243.
words, the question is whether the enactment of this amendment would dramatically change the American character or not. We may wonder if America will still be a political community beyond ethnic, racial and religious considerations with the enactment of official language legislation.
A modification of the American Constitution involves the modification of both the image? described by Anderson in his definition of the nation and the style? in which the nation was first imagined (Anderson 6). Such an amendment would transform America in an officially monolingual and English-speaking nation.
We may ask ourselves if such an amendment would not have consequences on the ethnic composition of the American nation. In order to answer this question, we need to explain the link between one's ethnicity and one's language. It has been explained previously that there is a close link between one's culture and one's language as language is one among other elements that allow the distinction between different cultures. The link between culture, language and ethnicity can be found in the definition of the word ethnic group?. The term "ethnic group" is derived from the Greek word ethnos, which means "nation" or people of the same race that share a distinctive culture51. An ethnic group can be defined as a sizable group of people sharing a common and distinctive racial, national, religious, linguistic, or cultural heritage?52. It can also refer to a particular group belonging to a national group by heritage or culture but residing outside its national boundaries?53. In the light of those definitions, it is clear that one's ethnicity is characterized by one's culture thus one's language.
The enactment of official language legislation to the U.S Constitution would then certainly jeopardize the American character. It seems that the relationship between one's language and one's ethnicity is quite strong and the imposition of a national language may have consequences on the ethnic composition of the nation. But one has to be cautious because, as we saw previously, it is possible to learn a new language even though it takes a certain amount of time as Anderson implied when he said that ?language is not an instrument of exclusion: in principle, anyone can learn any language. On the contrary it is fundamentally inclusive, limited only by the fatality of Babel: no one lives long enough to learn all languages(Anderson 134). But an amendment that would declare English the official language of the United States would certainly refrain some non-English speaking people to come and settle in America. The plural dimension of the nation would certainly be affected by the enactment of official language legislation.
Similarly, the individual rights and liberty guaranteed under the Constitution, main
51 Ethnic?, Compact Oxford English Dictionary, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010. Ask Oxford. Web 4 March 2010
52 "Ethnic group", Encycloepdia Britanica, Encyclopedia Britanica. Inc, 2010. Encyclopedia Britanica Online. Web. 5 February 2010.
53 Ibid .
characteristic of the American nation, would also be under threat. Up to now, people had the choice to speak any language on the American soil but this amendment would deprive them from this right and it may even lead to the total rejection of non-English speaking people of the nation. It would put an end to multilingual government services such as multilingual ballots and driving license tests in foreign languages and it would also certainly entail the loss of the right to bilingual education for non-English speaking people. Even though immigrants took the step to learn English, there will still be some of them who cannot succeed to speak, write or understand the English language and the removal of multilingual services would be an assault to their right to participate in the democracy.
The American nation would also be re-imagined by an English Language amendment because according to the Britannica Concise Encyclopedia, a language both reflects and affects a culture's way of thinking54?. The language we speak structures what we see and how we see it. Language can be said to influence thoughts and behavior and thus culture. This theory is at the heart of the Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis. According to Sapir and Whorf, people see the world through a given language. Since all languages have their structural and semantic characteristics, people speaking different languages have different views and thoughts of the world. Sapir and Whorf assume that the particular structure of each language results in a culturally specific structuring of reality?55. In other words, speakers of different languages will have different cultural outlooks. Furthermore, the imposition of a national language on a nation that was created two hundred years ago on the basis of individual rights and without any official language may be a way to impose one's culture over other cultures.
On this point, one has to be cautious because the fact that people experience the world through a language and that there are different languages and thus different cultures, does not mean that intercultural communication is impossible. It does not mean either that such an amendment would change anything to the cultural outlook of people. But what is relevant to bear in mind for the purpose of this analysis is that declaring English the national language of the United States would certainly affect the status of minority cultures manifested in a foreign language. It is important to keep in mind what Renan said about races and languages: man is a slave neither of his race, nor his language?(Renan 41-55). According to E. Renan, it is not appropriate to discriminate against someone on the basis of his/her race or his/her language and the enactment of an official language amendment may to a certain extent lead to such discriminations.
It is essential, however, to keep in mind that this amendment has never been enacted by
54 "language", Encycloepdia Britanica, Encyclopedia Britanica. Inc, 2010. Encyclopedia Britanica Online. Web. 5 February 2010.
55 DEVITO, Joseph. A, Human Communication, The Basic Course, (Fifth Edition), New York: HarperCollins Publishers Inc, 1991. Print. p. 438. and MAY, Stephen, Language and Minority Rights: Ethnicity, Nationalism and the Politics of Language, New York: Routledge, 2008. Print. p. 133.
Congress and that it is impossible to plan what the consequences of the imposition of English as the national language of the United States would be. It may only be a symbolic amendment enforced by no particular measure or it can have a huge political impact. This aspect will be debated in the last section of this part when accounting for the division it has created between the different states which passed official English legislation to their Constitution and the Federal government which has been rejecting such a proposal for more than twenty years.
As our analysis has just shown, amending the Constitution can be considered a way to re-imagine the nation. Our analysis will now turn to the implications of an English Language Amendment for democracy.
First of all, democracy was defined by Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865) in a speech entitled the Gettysburg Address, given on the 19th of November 1863, as government of the people, by the people, for the people?56. Democracy is a form of government under which a constitution guarantees basic personal and political rights, fair and free elections, and independent courts of law?57. Thus, what is implied by the word democracy in its modern sense, is the separation of powers, basic civil rights and human rights, religious liberty and separation of the church and the state. Democracy in America was protected under the Constitution. The Constitution guaranteed every American citizen the right to vote as well as free speech and other liberties. Furthermore, the concept of democracy implies the participation of the people in the government and this is made possible through the right to vote.
As language can be a way to differentiate members from non-members, it can also be used as a tool for exclusion. Language can be a barrier? when speakers of different languages are in contact. U.S English has been trying to exclude non-English speakers from the American nation on the basis that they should not have access to citizenship because of their lack of English proficiency. In a testimony made in front of Congress in 2006, M. Mujica said that our national aspiration is that these immigrants learn English and become Americans? (Annex VI, l. 34-35). In this statement, Mujica implied that immigrants become Americans only after having learned the English language. The learning of English is described as a civic duty? by Mujica in this testimony. In this light, it is relevant to conclude that language has been used by U.S English as a tool for exclusion. But Anderson stated that language is not an instrument of exclusion: in principle, anyone can learn any
56 LINCOLN, Abraham. ?Nicolas Copy of the Gettysburg Address?, 1863, Transcription, Library of Congress. Web. 4 March 2010. n.p.
57 Democracy Building. A short Definition of Democracy?, 2004. Web. 4 March 2010. n.p.
language. On the contrary it is fundamentally inclusive, limited only by the fatality of Babel: no one lives long enough to learn all languages? (Anderson 134). In this light, language should not be a pretext for refraining someone to participate in democracy. But as we will see, in order to become a U.S citizen, one has to pass a test of English proficiency.
It is then necessary to look at the requirements to become a U.S citizen in order to account of the implications of official language legislation for the American democracy. According to the Civil Rights Act of 1886, people born in the United States are legally citizens. In other words, a birth certificate is a proof of citizenship. Similarly, one can have U.S citizenship through parents: someone born outside the US can have the status of U.S citizen if one's parents were U.S citizens themselves at the time of birth. Another process is through naturalization because as we have seen previously the United States is a civic nation and birth is not the only way to become a citizen. According to the U.S Citizenship and Immigration Services, in order to be a naturalized U.S citizen, one have to be 18 or older, being a permanent resident for at least five years, residing permanently in the United States and be able to read, write, and speak English and have knowledge and an understanding of U.S. history and government as well as being a person of good moral character, attached to the principles of the Constitution of the United States, and well disposed to the good order and happiness of the United States during all relevant periods under the law?58.
As far as the English language requirement is concerned, it is possible to be exempted from this test under certain circumstances. The U.S Citizenship and Immigration Services stated that:
You Are Exempt From The English Language Requirement, But Are Still Required To Take The
Civics Test If You Are:
- Age 50 or older at the time of filing for naturalization and have lived as a permanent resident (green card holder) in the United States for 20 years (commonly referred to as the 50/20? exception).
- Age 55 or older at the time of filing for naturalization and have lived as a permanent resident in the United States for 15 years (commonly referred to as the 55/15? exception).
- ... if you are unable to comply with these requirements because of a physical or developmental disability or a mental impairment59.
In fact, under the 50/20? exception or the 55/15? exception or if the applicant suffers from physical or mental disabilities, it is possible to become a naturalized American citizen without mastering the English language. Once the process to become a legal US citizen has been explained, we have to account for the views of the movement on this point. U.S ENGLISH has been considering that in order to vote you have to be a citizen, and in order to become a citizen, you need to speak and understand the English language fully. In 1985, Hayakawa wrote:
58 U.S Citizenship and Immigration Services, General Path to Citizenship?, 2009. Web. 4 March 2010. n.p.
The English language amendment is intended to stop the practice of voting in foreign languages ... it is intended to make English the only language for official proceedings of governments at all levels. ... it is intended to make the acceptance of English a condition of statehood incumbent upon all territories aspiring to that status (Annex IV, l.414-415).
In other words, U.S ENGLISH proposal to declare English the official language of the United States can be considered as a way to put an end to bilingual ballots and any other multilingual services offered by the government as our analysis has demonstrated previously. Furthermore, while recalling the requirements to become a US citizen, Hayakawa considered bilingual ballots as contradictory? and confusing? on the basis that one needs to speak English to be a naturalized U.S citizen:
This amendment is needed to clarify the confusing signals we have given in recent years to immigrant groups. The requirements to become a naturalized citizen say you must be able to speak, read and write words in the English language. And though you must be a citizen to vote, some recent legislation has required bilingual ballots in some areas. This amendment would end that contradictory and logically conflicting situation (Annex IV, l.382-387).
But as our analysis of US Citizenship and Immigration Services has put forward, anybody can become a US citizen by birth and there is nothing in the Immigration and Nationality Act that states that you have to be born from English-speaking parents. In fact, it is possible to be a U.S citizen by birth without speaking or understanding the English language and this is partly why the government put in place multilingual services. Besides, it is possible to be exempted from the English Language Requirement under various circumstances. Thereby, the rhetoric of U.S ENGLISH can be considered as ill-informed and the result of a popularization. If the enactment of an English Language Amendment implies the suppression of those services offered to non-English people as U.S ENGLISH has intended to do, it would deprive them from their very basic right to participate in the democracy.
U.S ENGLISH regarded bilingual ballots as conflicting? and contradictory?, but our analysis of the requirements to become a U.S citizen brought out that the existence of those services can be legitimated. More than just castigating the multilingual services offered to the non-English speaking population, U.S ENGLISH went further when they accused the U.S government of being racist? and wasteful?. In 1985, Hayakawa attacked two of the three branches of the US government in his monograph to promote the English Language Amendment (Annex IV).
First, he attacked the legislative branch of the government when he qualified the bilingual ballots? passed in 1975 in an amendment to the Voting Rights Act as being the expression of a profound racism?(Annex IV, l.284). Hayakawa interpreted this law as a way to favor non-white speakers. This law is assumed to favor non-white foreign-language groups at the expense of white foreign-language speakers of French Canadians or Yiddish. The author explained that those people
were presumed to be able to learn English without difficulty? (Annex IV, l.288-289) whereas the non-white speakers were assumed not to be smart enough to learn English?(Annex IV, l.287). The government was charged for the failure of incorporation of all nationals in the nation. The U.S government was accused of favoring non-white-foreign-language speakers, responsible for the disuniting of the nation as described by the author. In other words, Hayakawa accused the government of having segregationist views.
But a thorough analysis of this law highlights the fact that there is no racial considerations in this law. Under Section 203(c) and 4(f) (4) of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, bilingual services are available to non-English speakers only if they represent more than five percent of the jurisdiction's total voting age citizens and are members of one language minority group or if more than ten thousand people of the jurisdiction's voting age citizens are members of a language minority group. In fact, if speakers of Yiddish or French Canadian did not have access to bilingual ballots, it was certainly not because of their skin color but only because they did not meet those criteria. Once again, the movement had an ill-informed interpretation of the law. One may wonder if it was due to a lack of research in the texts of the law or if it was a way to influence their readers by trying to convince them that the laws passed by the government were inappropriate and thus needed to be modified.
Then, Hayakawa attacked the judiciary branch of the government when he qualified the Lau decision of the US Supreme Court of 1974 as being a go-ahead for amazing educational developments?(Annex IV, l.309). The Supreme Court was accused of having not mentionned the way English should be taught to the non-English speaking students (Annex IV, l. 308). This was clearly an inaccurate criticism of the government as this law did not make bilingual education as a legal requirement for schools but simply ruled on the illegality of excluding minority-language students from such programs. The Lau decision allowed the possibility of some funding for bilingual education in order to insure equal treatment for all children in the school system. It is clear that for the author, the aim of bilingual education should be the transfer into English and clearly not the maintenance of a native language. It is important to remember that this monograph was published during the Reagan administration and at that time the President tried to reduce the government spending to reduce inflation. Hayakawa used this economic situation to justify the need of an English Language Amendment: it would reduce the Department of Education and States spending.
As we have seen previously, the enactment of an English Language Amendment would have strong implications for democracy as it may lead to the rejection of non-English speakers. But it is very unlikely that such an amendment would led to the suppression of multilingual services as under Title III of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the states and municipal governments are prohibited
from denying access to public facilities on grounds of race, religion, gender or ethnicity. Similarly, under section one of the Fifteenth Amendment of the U.S Constitution, the right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude?60. The enactment of official language legislation would not be in agreement with the Fifteenth amendment because as we have seen it appears that the language is clearly linked to one's national origin, and thus one's race?.
3. Accounting for the Division between State and Federal Government
First of all, at national level over 50 bills were introduced supporting English as the official language of the United States and since 1981those bills have gathered more than 2,000 co-sponsors. Among them, sixteen gathered more than fifty co-sponsors, eight exceeded a hundred, and only five passed one chamber of the U.S. Congress and most recently in May 2006, one has passed Senate with a 62-35 margin. 61
At state level, 623 different members of Congress representing each of the fifteen states had sponsored, co-sponsored or voted in favor of official English legislation both in the House and in Senate.62 Under U.S ENGLISH lobbying activities, twenty five states passed official English laws. 63 Before the creation of U.S ENGLISH, Louisiana (1812), Nebraska (1920), Illinois (1969), Massachusetts (1975), and Hawaii (1978) have passed official English legislation at State level. Out of fifty American states thirty actually passed official English measures because Hawaii, Illinois, Louisiana, Massachusetts, and Nebraska passed legislation declaring English the official language of the State prior to the creation of U.S ENGLISH.
One may wonder how U.S ENGLISH managed to influence half of the fifty American States to pass this kind of legislation considering that since 1981at national level, only five bills passed one house. A partial answer to this question can be given in the fact that almost all the states which passed official English laws did not really act upon them. Furthermore, it is a mistake to think that only States with the highest percentage of immigrants or foreign-language speakers passed this kind
60 ?The House Joint Resolution proposing the 15th amendment to the Constitution?, 7 December 1868, Enrolled Acts and Resolutions of Congress, 1789-1999, General Records of the United States Government, Record Group 11, National Archives Web. 4 March 2010.
61 Informations gathered from U.S ENGLISH
62 Full list available on the official website of U.S ENGLISH at < http://www.us-english.org/view/396 >
63 Alabama (1990), Alaska (1998), Arizona (2006), Arkansas (1987), California (1986), Colorado (1988), Florida (1988), Georgia (1986 & 1996), Idaho (2007), Indiana (1984), Iowa (2002), Kansas (2007), Kentucky (1984), Mississippi (1987), Missouri (1998 & 2008), Montana (1995), New Hampshire (1995), North Carolina (1987), North Dakota (1987), South Carolina (1987), South Dakota (1995), Tennessee (1984), Utah (2000), Virginia (1981 & 1996), Wyoming (1996).
of laws because among those who decided to pass an official English legislation only California, Florida, Arizona and Colorado had a large immigrant population. We may then wonder why so many States passed Official English laws. In fact, the U.S ENGLISH movement appeals to Democrats and Republicans, Liberals and Moderates, whites and non-whites, and immigrants as well as native-born Americans. In this light, it seems that at State level, language legislation was passed because the proposition voiced by U.S ENGLISH was considered a symbolic measure.
At national level, public opinion generally favored the enactment of an English Language Amendment to the U.S Constitution because according to the GSS survey of 2000, 77.5% of the respondents said to be in favor of a law making English the official language of the United States (Annex XXI, Fig. 3.). But, to the question do you think that English will be threatened if other languages are frequently used in large immigrant communities in the U.S??, 51.4% of the respondents disagreed, 16.1% strongly disagreed whereas 23.6% of respondents agreed and 8.9% strongly agreed (Annex XXI, Fig.4.). When asked if speaking English as the common national language is what unites all Americans?, 26.3% of the respondents strongly agreed and 49.8% agreed whereas 21.2% disagreed and 2.7% strongly disagreed (Annex XXI, Fig. 5.). According to this survey, it seems that language was seen as a marker of national identity and the linguistic diversity brought by the successive waves of immigration to the U.S was not generally considered as a threat. Similarly, when asking if they agree on the fact that bilingual education should be abolished, 49.5% disagreed and 28.3% strongly disagreed whereas 6% strongly agreed and 16.2% agreed (Annex XXI, Fig. 2.). One may conclude that the respondents did not oppose bilingual education even though they tended to favor the enactment of national language legislation.
The implications of national language legislation, that is to say the suppression of bilingual services such as bilingual education, seem to be problematic. Public opinion which would generally tend to favor such an amendment may only do so because they considered that language ability was linked to one's nationality, and thus to one's national identity. To a certain extent, those considerations may account for the failure of the enactment of such an amendment at Federal level.
But a last aspect needs to be taken into consideration when accounting for the failure of this amendment. The United Nations, UNESCO and the Council of Europe all have declared that minority language groups had the right to maintain their language. In other words, they believed that in democratic society each individual should have the right of choice of language. This conception of language is the last aspect of Ruiz's typology of language.
Language as a right? is guaranteed in the United States under the 1992 United Nations Declaration of Rights (Baker and Prys Jones 279), signed by the United States, imposing to States to recognize some fundamental rights to people belonging to national or ethnic, religious and linguistic minorities. In this declaration, Article 1 stated the duty States have towards minorities to
protect and encourage conditions for the promotion of their identity. Article 2 dealt with the right minorities have to use their own language, in private and in public as well as their right to participate effectively in decisions on the national and regional level concerning the minority to which they belong or the regions in which they live.? Article 4 considered that States should take appropriate measures so that persons belonging to minorities have adequate opportunities to learn their mother tongue or have instruction in their mother tongue? and that minorities should have the right to participate fully in the economic progress and development of their country.
According to this declaration, minorities do have inalienable rights that need to be protected by States. Among those rights, the right to participate in the economy and the right to speak one's own language freely both in public and in private sphere has to be insured by the various States which signed this declaration. More generally, the US government signed agreements with UNESCO, the League of Nations and the Helsinki Accord to protect both freedom from discrimination on the basis of language and the right to mother-tongue schooling.
In the United States, as it was demonstrated previously, the rights of individuals were central to U.S democracy but U.S ENGLISH did not take those considerations into account as they have equaled the enactment of an English language amendment with the suppression of multilingual services. The English language Amendment as it is presented by U.S ENGLISH may deprive minorities from such protected rights.
For instance, the right minorities should have to be educated in their mother tongue has already been under threat with the enactment of anti-bilingual education legislation in California under the influence of U.S ENGLISH. The law under the name of Proposition 227, was voted in June 1998. It reduced bilingual education available to non-English speaking children to a year. After this period, English learners are transferred into mainstream classes where all lessons are given in the English language. Under the parental waiver conditions defined by this law, parents can ask for extra time of bilingual education if there are twenty pupils or more asking for the same program. This decision came as a surprise as in California, there is a huge percentage of an English learner. According to Denis Baron, minority languages are badges of ethnicity?64, and the maintenance of one's ethnic language is essential to one's ethnic identity. Under such programs, children may be reluctant to promote their ethnic identity and as students have less time to learn the English language, it may also limit their educational opportunities as all lessons are given in a language they do not necessarily master after only a few years of instruction. Similar legislation were passed under the lobbying of U.S ENGLISH in Arizona in November 2000 and Massachusetts in 2002.
Even though U.S ENGLISH had no problem with the maintenance of one's native tongue by
64 BARON, Denis, The English-Only Question: an official language for Americans?, New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1990. Print. p. 4.
private organizations, under the United Nations Declaration of Rights, minorities should have the right to maintain their native tongue at public expense through state programs.
In the light of this analysis, it seems that in the United States the need for official language legislation is questionable because people tend to agree with the symbolic dimension of this proposal but are not ready to assume the political implications of such a decision yet.
Our analysis will now turn to the communication strategies of the movement before accounting for what the support for this movement lets on about American national identity.