ERIC Identifier: ED406849
Publication Date: 1997-05-00
Author: Lewelling, Vickie W.
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on
Languages and Linguistics Washington DC.
Official English and English Plus: An Update. ERIC Digest.
At the time of Independence, America was populated by speakers of many
languages, including English, German, French, Spanish, and hundreds of American
Indian languages. When the founding fathers decided not to declare an official
language, their reasons included "a belief in tolerance for linguistic diversity
within the population, the economic and social value of foreign language
knowledge and citizenry, and a desire not to restrict the linguistic and
cultural freedom of those living in the new country" (Judd, 1987, p. 15). The
issue of an official language has surfaced periodically throughout U.S. history
but was not raised in Congress until 1981, when Senator S.I. Hayakawa of
California introduced a constitutional amendment to make English the official
language. On the surface, the idea appeared to be a symbolic gesture--to give
English, the de facto language of the country, official status. However, the
proposed amendment also called for prohibition of state laws, ordinances,
orders, programs, and policies that require the use of other languages. Neither
the Federal government nor any state government could require any program,
policy, or document that would use a language other than English.
Concern over the implications such an amendment could have for U.S. citizens
and residents whose native language is other than English led to formation of an
English Plus language advocacy coalition of more than 50 civil rights and
educational organizations. In 1987, the coalition established the English Plus
Information Clearinghouse (EPIC). EPIC's purpose is to fulfill the need for
centralized information on language rights and language policy, to respond to
efforts to restrict the use of languages other than English, and to promote an
alternative to Official English.
WHAT IS OFFICIAL ENGLISH?
The Official English movement
seeks to make English the official language of the United States through passage
of a constitutional amendment. Supporters argue that "in a pluralistic nation
such as ours, government should foster the similarities that unite us, rather
than the differences that separate us" (Wright, 1992, p. 129) and "unless we
become serious about protecting our heritage as a unilingual society--bound by a
common language--we may lose a precious resource that has helped us forge a
national character and identity from so many diverse elements" (Chavez, 1987, p.
11). Providing education or services in other languages, it is feared, will give
rise to ethnic separatism and the breakdown of national unity; the way to
prevent this rift is to make English the official language. The movement is
spearheaded by two groups, English First and U.S. English. Goals of the movement
are to encourage ratification of a constitutional amendment making English the
official language of the United States; to repeal bilingual voting requirements;
to reduce funding for bilingual education; to enforce English language and
civics requirements for naturalization; and to expand opportunities for learning
English (U.S. English, 1992).
WHAT IS ENGLISH PLUS?
English Plus is based on the belief
that all U.S. residents should have the opportunity to become proficient in
English PLUS one or more other languages. For nonnative speakers of English,
this means the opportunity to acquire proficiency in English as well as maintain
proficiency in their native language. For native English speakers, this means
the chance to become proficient in a language other than English, while
continuing to develop English proficiency.
Proponents of English Plus view cultural diversity as a national strength and
believe that it provides the United States with a "unique reservoir of
understanding and talent" (EPIC, 1992, p.152). They support access to bilingual
services and education to provide a bridge for language minority individuals who
are not yet proficient in English. They point to evidence that suggests
immigrant groups are, in fact, very motivated to learn English. Such evidence
includes results of a survey of 2,817 Americans of Mexican, Puerto Rican, and
Cuban descent, which showed that more than 90% of the respondents believe U.S.
citizens and residents should learn English (Duke, 1992). English Plus
proponents see lack of opportunity, not lack of motivation, as the primary
barrier to acquiring English. In their view, this is confirmed by the thousands
of prospective ESL students who are regularly turned away because there are not
enough classes to accommodate them.
English Plus supports legislative measures designed to provide linguistic
assistance to Americans who are not fluent in English, including interpreter
services in emergency situations such as 911; multilingual medical services;
bilingual education and employment training; and multilingual drivers license
exams. On the federal level, these include the bilingual provisions of the
Voting Rights Act and the Court Interpreters Act. State provisions may also call
for language services in civil courts and at migrant health and substance abuse
centers. "National unity and our constitutional values require that language
assistance be made available in order to ensure equal access to essential
services, education, the electoral process, and other rights and opportunities
guaranteed to all members of society" (EPIC, 1992, p. 151).
English Plus supporters agree with official English proponents that
proficiency in English is indispensable and that opportunities must be provided
for all U.S. residents to learn English. They do not believe a constitutional
amendment will accomplish these goals, and they argue that official English laws
are counterproductive because they restrict the rights and access to essential
services of individuals who are not yet English-proficient.
The Voting Rights Act of 1965 eliminated
literacy requirements for voting because they were seen as discriminatory
against Blacks in the South. In 1975, to eliminate discrimination based on
language proficiency, the House and Senate Judiciary Committees added the
provision of election materials in languages other than English in jurisdictions
where at least 5% of the population is American Indian, Asian American, Native
Alaskan, or of Spanish heritage. English Plus advocates maintain that "the right
to vote is fundamental because it provides a means to preserve all other rights" (Trasvina, 1992, p. 263). Voting materials are written at levels as high as
college English; only about a third grade level of English literacy is needed to
pass the literacy test for naturalization. Many native born Americans, such as
some American Indians and Hispanics in the Southwest, especially the elderly who
were taught little English in school, may be unable to cast an informed vote in
Official English proponents argue that people cannot cast an informed vote
without knowing English, and that allowing non-English speakers to vote may make
them prey to bloc voting by special interest groups. They argue that bilingual
ballots are contradictory to citizenship laws, which require fluency in English,
and inhibit the learning of English (Bikales, 1986).
Bilingual education programs use both
the student's native language and English for instruction. In support of these
programs, English Plus advocates cite research that emphasizes the positive
influence native language development has on second language proficiency. Lack
of first language development has been shown, in some cases, to inhibit the
level of second language proficiency and cognitive academic development (Hakuta,
Krashen (1992) suggests that successful bilingual education programs actually
result in faster acquisition of English. Content matter taught in the native
language can be transferred to the second language. In the regular classroom,
confronted with both concepts and language that are not comprehensible to them,
limited English speakers learn neither the content nor the language. Research
indicates that language acquisition occurs only when incoming messages can be
understood (Krashen, 1992). Official English proponents believe that bilingual
education programs advocate maintenance of native languages and cultures at the
expense of English, and that they encourage children not to learn English or
become part of American society. They suggest that by teaching students English
as quickly as possible, schools "make it clear to immigrant parents and children
alike that mastery of English is indispensable for one's becoming a full member
of American society" (English Language Amendment, 1984).
OFFICIAL ENGLISH AND ENGLISH PLUS LEGISLATION
Senate convened hearings on Official English in 1984 and the House did so in
1988, the English Language Amendment has never come to a Congressional vote. In
1991, Official English advocates took a different approach and launched a
statutory form of Official English. Such legislation would apply to the federal
government alone and would require only a simple majority vote in Congress, in
addition to the President's signature. This Language of Government bill has
appeared in several versions, and one of these bills, H.R. 123, passed the House
of Representatives in 1996. However, the companion measure never came to a vote
in the Senate, and the bill died in the 104th Congress (Crawford, 1997b). A
similar bill, also designated H.R. 123, is pending in the 105th Congress. If
enacted, English would be designated the official language of the United States
government, and the use of other languages in all federal government programs,
publications, proceedings, and services would be outlawed--with a few exceptions
for national security, language teaching, and the use of Native American
languages (Crawford, 1997a). In opposition to English Only measures, English
Plus legislation has been introduced in the form of a nonbinding policy
statement. At the state level, Alabama, California, Colorado, Florida, and
Nebraska have constitutional amendments designating English as the official
state language. In addition, in March 1997, the U.S. Supreme Court vacated the
decision by Arizona state and appellate courts that had ruled Arizona's 1988
English language amendment unconstitutional. However, provisions of the
amendment cannot be enforced until another case, Ruiz vs. Symington, is
resolved. States with official English statutes include Arkansas, Georgia,
Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Mississippi, Montana, New Hampshire, North
Carolina, North Dakota, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Virginia, and
Wyoming. Bills are pending in 13 states, including Connecticut, Iowa, Kansas,
Massachusetts, Michigan, Missouri, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Oklahoma, Utah,
Washington, and Wisconsin. Hawaii has passed an amendment declaring both English
and Hawaiian official languages. The English Plus movement has provided a means
for advancing policies that support linguistic pluralism at the state level. For
example, New Mexico has adopted a resolution declaring that proficiency in more
than one language is beneficial to the nation, that English needs no official
legislation to support it, and that proficiency in other languages should be
encouraged. Oregon and Washington have also passed English Plus resolutions.
Bikales, G. (1986). Comment: The other side. The
International "Journal of the Sociology of Language," 60: Language Rights and
the English Language Amendment, 77-85.
Chavez, L. (1987, December 4). English: Our common bond. A speech presented
to the Los Angeles World Affairs Council.
Crawford, J. (1997a). English only bill reintroduced in 105th Congress.
English only update VIII [on-line]. Available: http://ourworld.
Crawford, J. (1997b). Issues in U.S. language policy: Language legislation in
the U.S.A [on-line]. Available:
Duke, L. (1992, December 16). Poll of Latinos counters perceptions on
language, immigration. "The Washington Post," p. A4.
English Language Amendment 1984: Hearings on S.J. Resolution 167 before the
Subcommittee on the Constitution of the Senate Judiciary Committee, 98th Cong.,
2nd Sess. Washington, DC: U.S. GPO.
EPIC. (1992). The English plus alternative. In J. Crawford (Ed.), "Language
loyalties: A source book on the official English controversy." Chicago:
University of Chicago Press.
Hakuta, K. (1990). "Bilingualism and bilingual education: A research
perspective. Focus No. 1." Washington, DC: NCBE.
Judd, E. L. (1987). The English Language Amendment: A case study on language
rights. "TESOL Quarterly," 21 (1).
Krashen, S. (1992). Sink-or-swim "success stories" and bilingual education.
In J. Crawford (Ed.), "Language loyalties: A source book on the official English
controversy." Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Trasvina, J. (1992). Bilingual ballots: Their history and a look forward. In
J. Crawford (Ed.), "Language loyalties: A source book on the official English
controversy." Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
U.S. English. (1992). In defense of our common language. In J. Crawford
(Ed.), "Language loyalties: A source book on the official English controversy."
Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Wright, G. (1992). U.S. English. In J. Crawford (Ed.), "Language loyalties: A
source book on the official English controversy." Chicago: University of Chicago