LINGUIST List 2.224

Wednesday, 15 May 1991

Disc: Language and Law

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  1. Enric Vallduvi, catalonia like quebec?
  2. , Approved names
  3. Geoffrey Nunberg, US English-only measures

Message 1: catalonia like quebec?

Date: Mon, 13 May 91 02:49:02 PDT
From: Enric Vallduvi <>
Subject: catalonia like quebec?

On Thu, 09 May 91 13:17:29 EDT writes on the subject
Re: Language and Culture (Part 1):

>A couple of more random comments on Eldridge's message. [...] 2) I am not
>certain about the Basque situation, but my understanding of the language
>situation in Catalonia is that it parallels that of Quebec in a number of 
>ways without generating much heat either among Americans or American

I haven't followed this thread with enough zeal to know if the situation in
Catalonia is parallel to the Quebec case. I think, though, that there are some
important differences. I'll describe the situation in Catalonia and I'll let
readers decide for themselves. With this message I don't intend to take a
stance in the Quebec issue, just inform readers about a putatively equatable

In Catalonia there's no sign law. Strolling around in Barcelona anyone can see
fifty times more ads and signs in Spanish than in Catalan. What you have is
(a) some discount in your local tax for your business in some towns if your
store signs are in Catalan, and (b) competitive loans through the government
to redo all your signs and labeling if you do it in Catalan (plus free
linguistic consulting). There are also *special* funds (i.e. there are regular
funds that are blind to language) from the Catalan government to promote
publishing, movie-making, song-writing, and other stuff in Catalan. 

As far as schooling goes, the only thing the law requires is that all kids be
taught some Catalan (except for those that can show they are in Catalonia only
temporarily). This results in a range that goes from schools where everything
is taught in Spanish except for a few weekly hours of Catalan to schools where
everything is taught in Catalan except for a few weekly hours of Spanish. Most
schools fall somewhere in between. You can send your kid to any school you
like. Immersion is put into practice in some schools with parental consent.
There's no law regulating the use of any language in the university. 

Finally, all teachers working in Catalonia and the employees of the Catalan
government must show they have at least a passive knowledge of Catalan (in the
case of teachers they have a couple years after they start working to show
they've acquired that knowledge). Other employers might require knowledge of
Catalan at their discretion.

Having an official language seems like an oddity in the U.S. but it is
commonplace in Europe. Catalonia, Spain, and the EEC all have official
languages. Catalonia has two official languages: Catalan and Spanish.
According to the Spanish constitution, though, Spain's Catalans have a *right*
to know Catalan, but the *duty* to know Spanish (France's Catalans may have
other duties, I guess...).
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Message 2: Approved names

Date: Mon, 13 May 91 10:40:00 EDT
From: <>
Subject: Approved names
There are evidently restrictions in Taiwan on what personal names
can be given, or at least officially registered. I was told that
there was recently a case mentioned in the Taiwan press where a
boy's parents wanted to name him "Zhu1shi3" ("pig shit")--in 
order to fool evil spirits into leaving him alone--but that the
government refused to allow it. I also heard of a case in the
late '40s when the Kuomintang government refused to allow 
registration of a name which, when read in Japanese, was a common
Japanese name also. It is possible that some Taiwanese under
the Japanese occupation found it convenient to choose personal
names which sounded appropriate in both Chinese and Japanese.
Perhaps someone more familiar with the situation can fill in
more details.
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Message 3: US English-only measures

Date: Mon, 13 May 1991 11:57:58 PDT
From: Geoffrey Nunberg <>
Subject: US English-only measures
Frank Anshen and Charles Hoequist have made a number of sound observations
about the history and current status of English-only laws in this country.
A couple of elaborations may help.

1. By-the-by: Franklin's remark about the difficulty of making a living as
an English-language printer in Philadelphia was made after a
German-language printer established himself in that city in 1750, and
deprived Franklin of a lot of the German custom that he had hitherto
enjoyed. It was around that time that Franklin's views about the use of
German began to change, and that he made his famous remarks about the
"Palatine Boors" who were "swarming into our settlements [and establishing]
their manners and customs at the expense of ours."

2. Charles Hoequist is right when he observes that there were laws in a
number of states in the period between the wars that limited instruction in
languages other than English. At a best estimate, such laws were passed in
more than 30 states. The most famous of these was the Nebraska law of 1919,
which banned the teaching of languages other than English in all schools,
public and private, until the ninth grade. (That same year, the Nebraska
legislature made an attempt to abolish private schooling entirely, a policy
that was briefly adopted in Oregon at around the same time.) The law was
upheld by the state supreme court, which warned against the "baneful
effects" of educating children in foreign languages, which must "naturally
inculcate in them the ideas and sentiments foreign to the best interests of
their country." The law was overturned in 1923 by the Meyer v Nebraska
decision of the Supreme Court, but on the basis of Fourteenth Amendment
protections, which were held to extend to the right (eg., of
foreign-language teachers) to earn a living and of parents to determine the
education of their children. (At the time, the decision was regarded as
bearing more directly on religious freedom, since many of these state laws
were aimed at foreign-langauge religious instruction.) That decision did
not question the reasonableness of the goals of the law; it maintained only
that "a desirable end cannot be promoted by prohibited means." Justice
Holmes dissented, by the way, arguing that the English-only law "is not an
undue restriction on the liberty of either teacher of scholar." The First
Amendment was not raised in the debate over the law.

3. This takes us to the present state of affairs. The Arizona English-only
initiative passed in 1988 was unusually specific; it stipulated that "The
state... shall act in English and no other language," with exceptions only
for certain educational purposes, to protect health and safety, and in
situations where the use of another language is required by Federal law. A
challenge was brought by Maria Kelly-Yniguez, an insurance claims manager
for the state, and by Jaime Guiterrez, a state senator from Tuscon, on the
grounds that it infringed their first-Amendemnet rights to use Spanish in
talking to clients and constituents. The state attorney general issued an
opinion saying that the law did not prohibit the use of a language other
than eng to facilitate the delivery of government service. But on February
2, 1990, U.S. District Judge Paul G. Rosenblatt struck down the amendment
on the grounds that its wording was "unnecessarily broad" for the purposes
for which it was intended. He thus did not rule directly on the question of
whether a more restrictively worded amendment would have violated
free-speech guarantees. Nor is it likely that his decision would have a
bearing on the constitutionality of measures in other states, which are
generally much more vaguely worded. The California amendment, for example,
merely declares English the official language and requires the legislature
and public officials to take such steps as are necessary to "ensure that
the status of English as the common languageIis preserved and enhanced."

Another relevant decision is in Asian-American Business Group v City of
Pomona, where the Central District Court of California ruled that a Pomona
English-only signage ordinance violated the First and Fourteenth
Amendments, saying that it not only prohibited but coerced speech. The
court noted also that the rule had been selectively enforced, since it was
applied only to signs written in non-Latin characters (eg. on Asian
businesses); French restaurants had not been required to change "Chez
Pierre" to "Pete's Place." As for workplace laws, however, the courts have
generally, but unsystematically, adhered to EEOC guidelines that permit
restrictions on hiring and language use only when a case of business
neccessity can be made. There have been no rulings that bear on the
Constitutional status of such laws.

Finally, it is worth noting that English-only laws may affect not only
free-speech rights, but also the right to petition for redress of
grievances, and the right of due process. It is my impression, however,
that legal opponents of English-only measures are not particularly sanguine
that the current Supreme Court would rule in their favor, and that they are
being careful about when and how they bring test cases.

As for the practical effects of such measures: it is true that nobody is
being thrown in jail for speaking a foreign language (though I would not be
so sure that no one has been fined, say for posting a foreign-language
business sign in Pomona, Lowell MA, or Monterey Park CA). At worst, a few
employees have been fired for using languages other than English on the
job, some junior high school students in Dade County have been subjected to
the humiliation of regulations that prohibited speaking Spanish in the
halls, people who have called in to state agencies requesting help in other
languages have been rudely hung up on, and so forth. And of course the
measures have encouraged states and adminsitrators to neglect bilingual
education programs; California Governor Deukmajian cited the state's
English-only law in vetoing a reauthorization of the bilingual education
bill in 1988. Still, most of the effects have been primarily symbolic. But
if US official-language measures are less draconian than analogous laws
passed in Canada, their symbolic effects may be more invidious, since they
are directed at culturally and economically disadvantaged minorities, not
at the language of an established majority culture. As Siobhan Nicolau and
Rafael Valdivieso put it, the English-only movement seems to be saying to
Hispanics: "We don't trust you -- we don't like you -- we don't think you
can fit in -- you are too different -- and there seem to be far too many of
you." It seems to me that this is not a cause for self-congratulation about
American solicitude about the civil rights of language minorities.

[End Linguist List, Vol. 2, No. 224]
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