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English-only movement

Sticker sold in Colorado demanding immigrants speak English

English-only movement, also known as Official English movement, refers to a political movement for the use only of the English language in official US government operations through the establishing of English as the only official language in the United States of America.


  • Earlier English-only movements 1
  • English and reasons behind English-only movement 2
  • The modern English-only movement 3
  • Criticism 4
  • Current law 5
  • See also 6
  • References 7
  • Further reading 8
  • External links 9

Earlier English-only movements

In 1803, as a result of the Louisiana Purchase, the United States acquired French-speaking populations in Louisiana. In 1807, Louisiana adopted English as its official language in its constitution as a condition to admittance to the Union. After the Mexican-American War (1846–1848), the United States acquired about 75,000 Spanish speakers in addition to several indigenous language-speaking populations.

An 1847 law authorized Anglo-French instruction in public schools in Louisiana. In 1849, the California constitution recognized Spanish language rights. French language rights were abolished after the American Civil War. In 1868, the Indian Peace Commission recommended English-only schooling for the Native Americans. In 1878–79, the California constitution was rewritten: "All laws of the State of California, and all official writings, and the executive, legislative, and judicial proceedings shall be conducted, preserved, and published in no other than the English language."

In the late 1880s, Wisconsin and Illinois passed English-only instruction laws for both public and parochial schools.

In 1896, under the Republic of Hawaii government, English became the primary medium of public schooling for Hawaiian children. After the Spanish–American War, English was declared "the official language of the school room" in Puerto Rico.[1] In the same way, English was declared the official language in the Philippines, after the Philippine–American War.

During World War I, there was a widespread campaign against the use of the German language in the US; this included removing books in the German language from libraries.[2] (A related action took place in South Australia as well with the Nomenclature Act of 1917. The legislation renamed 69 towns, suburbs or areas that had German names.)[3]

English and reasons behind English-only movement

In 1907, US President Theodore Roosevelt wrote, "We have room for but one language in this country, and that is the English language, for we intend to see that the crucible turns our people out as Americans, of American nationality, and not as dwellers in a polyglot boarding house."[4]

ProEnglish, the nation's leading advocates of "Official English," summarizes their belief that "in pluralistic nation such as ours, the function of government should be to foster and support the similarities that unite us, rather than institutionalize the differences that divide us." Therefore, ProEnglish "works through the courts and in the court of public opinion to defend English's historic role as America's common, unifying language, and to persuade lawmakers to adopt English as the official language at all levels of government." [5]

Another "Official English" advocate group, U.S. English, summarizes their belief with "the passage of English as the official language will help to expand opportunities for immigrants to learn and speak English, the single greatest empowering tool that immigrants must have to succeed."[6]

The modern English-only movement

In 1980, Dade County, Florida voters approved an "anti-bilingual ordinance."[7] However, this was repealed by the county commission in 1993, after "racially orientated redistricting"[8] led to a change in government.[9]

In 1981, English was declared the official language in the commonwealth of Virginia.[10]

In 1983, Dr. Larry Pratt founded English First, while Lou Zaeske, an engineer from Bryan, Texas, established the American Ethnic Coalition.

In 1985, Kae T. Patrick, a member of the Texas House of Representatives from San Antonio was the lone supporter of his unsuccessful attempt to authorize English as the official language of Texas. His House Concurrent Resolution No. 13 died in the State Affairs Committee. Patrick said his resolution was more important than having a "state bird." In subsequent sessions of the legislature, the move toward Official English gained supporters, including Talmadge Heflin of Houston, but never enough members to approve enactment of a law.[11]

In 1994, John Tanton and other former U.S. English associates founded ProEnglish specifically to defend Arizona's English-only law. ProEnglish rejects the term "English-only movement" and asks its supporters to refer to the movement instead as "Official English".[12]

The U.S. Senate voted on two separate changes to an immigration bill in May 2006.[13][14] The amended bill recognized English as a "common and unifying language" and gave contradictory instructions to government agencies on their obligations for non-English publications.[15]

In what was essentially a replay of the 2006 actions, on June 6, 2007 the US Senate again voted on two separate amendments to a subsequent immigration reform bill that closely resembled the amendments to the 2006 Senate bill.[16] [17] Ultimately, neither the 2006 nor 2007 immigration reform bill has become law.

On January 22, 2009, voters in Nashville, Tennessee rejected a proposal under a referendum election to make "Nashville the largest city in the United States to prohibit the government from using languages other than English, with exceptions allowed for issues of health and safety." The initiative failed by a vote of 57% to 43%.[18]

In March 2012, Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum was criticized by some Republican delegates from Puerto Rico when he publicly took the position that Puerto Rico, a Spanish-speaking territory, should be required to make English its primary language as a condition of statehood.[19]


The modern English-only movement has met with rejection from the private organization Linguistic Society of America, which passed a resolution in 1986–87 opposing "'English only' measures on the grounds that they are based on misconceptions about the role of a common language in establishing political unity, and that they are inconsistent with basic American traditions of linguistic tolerance."[20]

Linguist Geoffrey Pullum, in an essay entitled "Here come the linguistic fascists" charges English First with "hatred and suspicion of aliens and immigrants" and points out that English is far from under threat in the United States, saying "making English the official language of the United States of America is about as urgently called for as making hotdogs the official food at baseball games."[21]

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has stated that "English Only" laws are inconsistent with both the First Amendment right to communicate with or petition the government, as well as free speech, and the right to equality because they bar government employees from providing non-English language assistance and services.[22] Many academics seem to agree.[23] On August 11, 2000, President Bill Clinton signed Executive Order 13166, "Improving Access to Services for Persons with Limited English Proficiency." The Executive Order requires Federal agencies to examine the services they provide, identify any need for services to those with limited English proficiency (LEP), and develop and implement a system to provide those services so LEP persons can have meaningful access to them.[24]

While the judicial system has noted that the laws are largely symbolic and non prohibitive, supervisors and managers often interpret them to mean English is the mandatory language of daily life.[25] In one instance, an elementary school bus driver prohibited students from speaking Spanish on their way to school after Colorado passed its legislation.[25] In 2004 in Scottsdale, a teacher claimed to be enforcing English immersion policies when she allegedly slapped students for speaking Spanish in class.[26] In 2005 in Kansas City, a student was suspended for speaking Spanish in the school hallways. The written discipline referral explaining the decision of the school to suspend the student for one and a half days, noted: "This is not the first time we have [asked] Zach and others to not speak Spanish at school." [27]

One study of English-only statutes during the Americanization period (1910-1930) finds that the policies moderately increased the literacy of certain foreign-born children but had no impact on immigrants' eventual labor market outcomes or measures of social integration.[28]

Current law

The United States federal government does not specify an official language; however, all official documents in the U.S. are written in English, though some are also published in other languages.[39]

See also


  1. ^ James Crawford (2000). At War With Diversity: U.S. Language Policy in an Age of Anxiety. Multilingual Matters. p. 17.  
  2. ^  
  3. ^ Leadbeater, Maureen M. "German Place Names in South Australia:". Retrieved December 29, 2007. 
  4. ^ Roosevelt, Theodore, Works (Memorial ed., 1926), vol. XXIV, p. 554 (New York: Charles Scribner's 11 Sons).
  5. ^ "Mission of organization" at
  6. ^ "Background of organization" at
  7. ^ "The Language Battle: Speaking the Truth", Inter-American Law Review (University of Miami Law School), 9 February 2007: 2, archived from the original (PDF) on 2011-05-15, retrieved 2008-02-17 
  8. ^ "'English only' law may be repealed in Florida county". Observer-Reporter. 3 May 1993. p. A8. The racially orientated redistricting of the Dade County commission may accomplish what a long campaign by Hispanics has failed to do – repeal the local "English only" law. 
  9. ^ "The power of language". St. Petersburg Times. 23 May 1993. p. 1D. 
  10. ^ Official English Laws: Code of Virginia, Chapter 829,, accessed 22 February 2015/
  11. ^ Raymond Tatalovich. Nativism Reborn?: The Official English Language Movement and the American States.  
  12. ^ Official English Is Not "English Only",, archived from the original on January 21, 2008, retrieved 2008-02-17 
  13. ^ Roll call vote on the Amendment (Inhofe Amdt. No. 4064), US Senate, 18 May 2006, retrieved 2009-04-09 
  14. ^ Roll call vote on the Amendment (Salazar Amdt. No. 4073 As Modified), US Senate, 18 May 2006, retrieved 2009-04-09 
  15. ^ "Snopes on the English-only amendments". Retrieved 2008-08-25. 
  16. ^ Roll call vote on the Amendment (Inhofe Amdt. No. 1151), US Senate, June 6, 2007, retrieved 2009-04-09 
  17. ^ Roll call vote on the Amendment (Salazar Amdt. No. 1384), US Senate, June 6, 2007, retrieved 2009-04-09 
  18. ^ "English-only fails; lopsided vote ends heated campaign", The Tennessean, 23 January 2009. Retrieved on 23 January 2009.
  19. ^ Seelye, Katherine Q.; Parker, Ashley (2012-03-15). "For Santorum, Trying to Tamp Down a Firestorm Over Puerto Rico Remarks". New York Times. Arthur Ochs Sulzberger, Jr. Retrieved 2012-10-10. 
  20. ^ Geoff Nunberg (December 28, 1986), Resolution: English Only, Linguistic Society of America, retrieved 2008-02-17 
  21. ^  
  22. ^ The Rights of Immigrants -ACLU Position Paper (9/8/2000). Retrieved on 2008-12-11
  23. ^ See, e.g. "Constitutional Clash: When English-only Meets Voting Rights" (Yale Law & Policy Journal),
  24. ^ Executive Order 13166. Retrieved on 2008-12-11
  25. ^ a b Gibson, Kari. English only court cases involving the U.S workplace. University of Hawai'i. Retrieved on 2008-12-11
  26. ^ Anne Ryman and Ofelia Madrid, Hispanics upset by teacher's discipline, The Arizona Republic, January 17, 2004.
  27. ^ T.R. Reid, Spanish At School Translates to Suspension, The Washington Post, December 9, 2005.
  28. ^ Lleras-Muney, Adriana; Shertzer, Allison. "Did the Americanization Movement Succeed? An Evaluation of the Effect of English-Only and Compulsory Schooling Laws on Immigrants †". American Economic Journal: Economic Policy 7 (3): 258–290.  
  29. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z aa ab ac ad ae af ag ah ai aj ak al am an ao ap aq ar as at Crawford, James (June 24, 2008). "Language Legislation in the U.S.A.". Retrieved April 27, 2011. 
  30. ^ "Once forbidden, Alaska’s Native languages now official state languages". KTOO. October 24, 2014. Retrieved October 25, 2014. 
  31. ^ "Arizona makes English official". Washington Times. November 8, 2006. Retrieved April 28, 2011. 
  32. ^ "Keetoowah Cherokee is the Official Language of the UKB" (PDF). Keetoowah Cherokee News: Official Publication of the United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee Indians in Oklahoma. April 2009. Retrieved 1 June 2014. 
  33. ^ "UKB Constitution and By-Laws in the Keetoowah Cherokee Language (PDF)" (PDF). United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee Indians. Retrieved 2 June 2014. 
  34. ^ "The Cherokee Nation & its Language" (PDF). University of Minnesota: Center for Advanced Research on Language Acquisition. 2008. Retrieved 2014-05-22. 
  35. ^ Slipke, Darla (November 3, 2010). "Oklahoma elections: Republican-backed measures win approval". NewsOK. The Oklahoman. Retrieved April 28, 2011. 
  36. ^ "Samoa now an official language of instruction in American Samoa". Radio New Zealand International. 2008-10-03. Retrieved 2011-04-28. 
  37. ^ Crawford, James. "Puerto Rico and Official English". Retrieved April 27, 2011. 
  38. ^ "Frequently Asked Questions". United States Virgin Islands. Retrieved April 27, 2011. 
  39. ^ "Spanish language website for the FDA". US Food and Drug Administration. Retrieved 2008-07-05. 

Further reading

  • Lynch, William. "A Nation Established by Immigrants Sanctions Employers for Requiring English to be Spoken at Work: English-Only Work Rules and National Origin Discrimination," 16 Temple Political and Civil Rights Law Review 65 (2006).
  • Olson, Wendy. "The Shame of Spanish: Cultural Bias in English First Legislation," Chicano-Latino Law Review 11 (1991).

External links

  • U.S. English (advocates for Official English)
  • Anatomy of the English-Only Movement, by James Crawford
  • Institute for Language and Education Policy
  • Lingo Jingo: English Only and the New Nativism, by Geoffrey Nunberg
  • Iowa Passes "English Only" Measure (2/27/02)
  • English-Only Movement: Its Consequences on the Education of Language Minority Children
  • Language Legislation in the U.S.A.
  • Statements and legal actions against English-only law by the American Civil Liberties Union
  • English as the Official Language of the United States: Legal background and Analysis of Legislation in the 110th Congress
  • Linguistic Society of American Statement on Language Rights
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