LINGUIST List 6.992

Thu Jul 20 1995

Disc: English only

Editor for this issue: Ann Dizdar <>


  1. Michael Newman, bilingualism
  2. Stuart Luppescu, English Only
  3. Robin Schafer, Discussion: English only
  4. , English Only
  5. Geoffrey Nunberg, "English Plus" Resolution in Congress

Message 1: bilingualism

Date: Wed, 12 Jul 1995 09:57:52 bilingualism
From: Michael Newman <>
Subject: bilingualism

I'm not sure why, but I was reluctant to post on the issue of US
bilingualism. In any case, I feel obliged to say this as an educational
linguist who has worked in ESL and tangentially in bilingual ed teacher
education. First of all, the entire notion that bilingual ed was, is, or
could be (designed as) a method for introducing national plurilingualism is
a nonstarter. Therefore any debates about it using plurilingualism as
argument get nowhere. In fact, with out a wish to flame anyone (because I
don't think it was intentional) the entire argument that we should stop
bilingual ed because of its anti-English or anti-standard English agenda is
of a kind very familiar to us in educational circles. It's little
different than what we hear from those who argue that proponents of
progressive educational idea X (e.g. whole langauge reading instruction,
process writing, outcomes-based ed.) are trying to bring down standards,
undermine society, do something unAmerican, and so on. It is essentially a
rhetorical manipulation of the worst kind, based on false suppositions, and
intended to push hot buttons. By saying this I am not defending bilingual
ed or any other movement. However, I think these need to be debated on
their educational merits.

Why is the argument a nonstarter? Admittedly, there are those in education
who propose that students have the right to their own dialect language or
what-have-you, and that they shouldn't have to learn standard English in
school. However, they are largely involved in an academic exercise that
takes place in the pages of journals of various sorts. They do not shape
policy. The avowed purpose of the vast majority of bilingual ed programs
is usually to ease a limited English proficient child into the mainstream.
The idea is that if they take content area courses in their first language
they will not fall behind while learning English. The programs contain ESL
components that supposedly will allow the kids to mainstream later. Some
programs do encourage native language literacy and continue classes native
language classes throughout a child's school career. Some take very young
English speaking kids and put them into these classes on an immersion
basis. Since usually older English speaking kids in other schools are
trying, in theory, to learn the same language the immigrant kids are
already fluent in, I fail to see what is controversial about that. It
seems to be designed, in theory again, to encourage personal, not societal,
bilingualism. The failings of bilingual ed, in places where it has failed,
have more to do with poor educational practice than with policy. If kids
are arriving at college after say five years in bilingual ed, and are
entering ESL programs, something didn't work right. To anyone remotely
familiar with urban schools, that should hardly be a surprise.

Now, on a national level I think we should look at US bilingualism and
forget about Catalonia or the Basque country for a moment. Bilingualism in
the US has endured over many generations in several situations: (i)
Tight-knit religious communities: Hasidic Jews who speak Yiddish, Old order
Amish, Brethren, and Mennonites, who speak their German dialects. (ii)
Groups who were overtaken, to put it nicely, by English speakers: the
Navajo and other indigenious peoples; French creole speakers in Louisiana,
Spanish in the southwest. (iii) Isolated communities: Gullah in South
Carolina and Georgia. Immigrants, it would seem, tend to assimilate
linguistically over a few, typically very few generations. In spite of the
myth that Spanish-speakers are somehow different on this score, I think, it
would be instructive to look at the case of New York, which is full of
people young Hispanics who cannot speak more than a few words of
Spanish-this in spite of continuing immigration from Spanish-speaking
countries. As a non-Yiddish or Hebrew speaking Ashkanazi Jew, I entirely
understand this phenomenon although as a learner of Spanish as a foreign
language, I lament the lost opportunity.

Finally, I think it would be more instructive to look at which Americans
feel threatened by the non-existent threat of the demise of something that
has never existed (the US as a monolingual nation) and try to figure out
why people feel that way. Why, for example, is it an issue in the west and
not in New York? Why is it associated with right and not the left? Why
has it come up now again? Is it it really just good old American nativism,
'90s style, or is there something different going on? Also, why haven't we
in linguistics and education done more to communicate with mainstream
Americans that the whole thing is a lot of nonsense?

Michael Newman
Dept. of Educational Theory & Practice
The Ohio State University

Mail to author|Respond to list|Read more issues|LINGUIST home page|Top of issue

Message 2: English Only

Date: Tue, 18 Jul 1995 18:23:26 English Only
From: Stuart Luppescu <>
Subject: English Only

I found the remarks of Johanna Rubba in a recent issue (6.967) to be
very worthwhile and to the point. I would like to add a couple of
points. In the vast majority of immigrants to the United States, the
typical pattern of language acquisition is: the first generation may
or may not learn English; the second generation learns English
natively and the parents' language to varying degrees of proficiency;
the third generation learns only English -- and this is without any
legislative intervention.

There are strong pedagogical and psycholinguistic reasons for bilingual
education programs for school-age immigrants and unassimilated
children of immigrants. It is far easier to ``learn to read'' (in the
general sense, not in the sense of learning to read a particular
language) in one's native language, and then learn to read the second
language, than it is to learn to read (in the second language) and to
learn the second language at the same time.

Stuart Luppescu |
University of Chicago | A foreign language is ``a weapon in | in the struggle for life.''
:MJ8$HCRF`H~$NIc | -- Karl Marx
Mail to author|Respond to list|Read more issues|LINGUIST home page|Top of issue

Message 3: Discussion: English only

Date: Mon, 17 Jul 1995 12:17:45 Discussion: English only
From: Robin Schafer <>
Subject: Discussion: English only

One point that Jack Aubert made in his recent posting is dead on:
quite apart from any putative intention on the part of policy
makers, in the U.S. today "bilingualism" rarely means the ability to
speak two languages fluently. I'm thinking particularly about
so--called bilingual classes in our public schools, where many
people get their first notion of what this word refers to. I have
enrolled my children in these classes whenever possible, but with
this decision comes the responsibility to attempt to convince
administrators that native speakers of English must be required
to learn some Spanish in these classes. (The bilingual classes at
my children's schools are always Spanish--English.) It has never
been expected in any of the bilingual classes my kids have been in
that they should be studying two languages too! These classes are
run as a one-way street --- and everyone knows it. As one little
girl (required to enroll) in my daughter's class told me, "
Bilingual means you're dumb." Hmmmmmmmmmm

What people say the word `bilingual' means in your standard Want
Ad is probably too hot an issue to handle. (Is this a new ``Urban
Myth'' that such ads are actually seeking people of certain
ethnicity?) I suspect that the term is coming to mean something
quite different than its traditional denotation, and sometime soon
we'll find that the word ``bilingual'' activates a number of
presuppositions about both mastery of English and ethnic identity,
not unlike what happened to the term ``illegal immigrant'',
as was demonstrated in various reports which
were released at the time of the debate on Prop 187.

This sort of change in the use of the word `bilingual' will not
help anyone whose goal is to encourage the study and use
of more than one language in the U.S. because non--experts, if
they do not control language policy, are certainly involved in
that policy making. I suggest that the way to combat it is very
local action: take the time to talk to the principal(s) of your
local public elementary school(s).

Robin Schafer
Mail to author|Respond to list|Read more issues|LINGUIST home page|Top of issue

Message 4: English Only

Date: Wed, 19 Jul 1995 20:26:00 English Only
From: <>
Subject: English Only

In a recent posting, Sxren Harder ( brings up an
interesting point (quoting from Steinberg (1993) "An Introduction to

> The law reflected the widespread belief that the German language was the
> embodiment of all that was evil in German culture and that to teach such
> a language to young Americans would be immoral and corrupting.
> ...lawyers for the state of Nebraska took essentially the position
> ...[that] a language by its very nature represents the spirit and
> national character of a people. If this were true, then by teaching them
> the grammar, structure and vocabulary of the German language, Meyer could
> indeed have been harming American children by making them into German
> militarists right there on the plains of Nebraska.

- interesting, because in several recent postings against the English-only
movement, an argument was given that teaching foreign _languages_ was good
because it exposed students to other _cultures_. That is precisely the
reason the teaching of the German language was banned, according to the
above quote. I think most of us would agree that the state of Nebraska was
wrong; teaching another language does not serve to any great extent to pass
on the culture. But if you believe that, aren't you being hypocritical to
believe that teaching foreign languages is good because it exposes students
to other cultures?

FWIW, I have a personal opinion: if you want to expose students to other
cultures, it would be much better to teach ethnography than language.
(Better yet, send the students to non-tourist areas of other countries.
But I doubt whether the US educational system is prepared for that!)

Mail to author|Respond to list|Read more issues|LINGUIST home page|Top of issue

Message 5: "English Plus" Resolution in Congress

Date: Sun, 16 Jul 1995 16:20:04 "English Plus" Resolution in Congress
From: Geoffrey Nunberg <>
Subject: "English Plus" Resolution in Congress

The "English-Plus" resolution below was introduced into the House of
Representative on July 13 by Rep. Jose Serrano (D-N.Y.), along with 31
other Democratic cosponsors and one Republican, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (Fla.).
It is a nonbinding statement of policy intended as counter to six
English-only bills now pending in Congress. (These measures include the
King bill, H. R. 1005, which would declare English the official language,
end bilingual education and bilingual ballots, and require all government
business to be transacted in English; and the only slightly less
restrictive Emerson bill, H. R. 123, which likewise declares English the
official language and ends all federal funding for bilingual education. The
Emerson bill has more than 120 sponsors and is held to be likely to pass
this year; hearings will probably be scheduled once the present conflicts
over the budget are resolved.)

Some opponents of English-only measures have felt that the wording of this
resolution is not as strong as they would like, particularly as it makes
only indirect reference to bilingual education programs. Still, its passage
would have an important symbolic effect, and even if it should be defeated
in committee, it will at least help to draw the battle lines over this issue.

The LSA Executive Committee voted at its meeting this May to give its
support to this resolution; and in a mail ballot a few years ago the
membership of the Society declared its opposition to English-only measures
by a margin of 94 to 6 percent. Individual linguists may want to make their
views on the English-Plus resolution known to members of the House
Committee on Economic and Educational Opportunities, whose names follow the
text of the resolution below. Committee members can be reached at:

 The Honorable _______
 U.S. House of Representatives
 Washington, DC 20515

Geoff Nunberg

Entitled, the ``English Plus Resolution''.

Whereas English is the primary language of the United States, and all
 members of the society recognize the importance of English to
 national life and individual accomplishment;

Whereas many residents of the United States speak native languages other
 than English, including many languages indigenous to this country,
 and these linguistic resources should be conserved and developed;

Whereas this Nation was founded on a commitment to democratic principles,
 and not on racial, ethnic, or religious homogeneity, and has drawn
 strength from a diversity of languages and cultures and from a
 respect for individual liberties;

Whereas multilingualism, or the ability to speak languages in addition to
 English, is a tremendous resource to the United States because such ability
 enhances American competitiveness in global markets by permitting improved
 communication and cross-cultural understanding between producers and
 suppliers, vendors and clients, retailers and consumers;

Whereas multilingualism improves United States diplomatic efforts by
 fostering enhanced communication and greater understanding between

Whereas multilingualism has historically been an essential element of
 national security, including the use of Native American languages
 in the development of coded communications during World War II,
 the Korean War, and the Vietnam War;

Whereas multilingualism promotes greater cross-cultural understanding
 between different racial and ethnic groups in the United States;

Whereas there is no threat to the status of English in the United States, a
 language that is spoken by 94 percent of United States residents,
 according to the 1990 United States Census, and there is no need to
 designate any official United States language or to adopt similar
 restrictionist legislation;

Whereas ``English-only'' measures, or proposals to designate English as the
 sole official language of the United States, would violate
 traditions of cultural pluralism, divide communities along ethnic
 lines, jeopardize the provision of law enforcement, public health,
 education, and other vital services to those whose English is
 limited, impair government efficiency, and undercut the national
 interest by hindering language skills needed to enhance
 international competitiveness and conduct diplomacy; and

Whereas such ``English-only'' measures would represent an unwarranted
 Federal regulation of self-expression, abrogate constitutional
 rights to freedom of expression and equal protection of the laws,
 violate international human rights treaties to which the United
 States is a signatory, and contradict the spirit of the 1923
 Supreme Court case Meyer v. Nebraska, wherein the Court declared
 that ``The protection of the Constitution extends to all; to those
 who speak other languages as well as to those born with English on
 the tongue''; Now, therefore, be it

Resolved by the House of Representatives (the Senate concurring), That the
United States Government should pursue policies that--

 (1) encourage all residents of this country to become fully proficient in
 English by expanding educational opportunities;

 (2) conserve and develop the Nation's linguistic resources by encouraging
 all residents of this country to learn or maintain skills in a language
 other than English;

 (3) assist Native Americans, Native Alaskans, Native Hawaiians, and other
 peoples indigenous to the United States, in their efforts to prevent the
 extinction of their languages and cultures;

 (4) continue to provide services in languages other than
 English as needed to facilitate access to essential functions of
 government, promote public health and safety, ensure due process, promote
 equal educational opportunity, and protect fundamental rights; and

 (5) recognize the importance of multilingualism to vital American
 interests and individual rights, and oppose ``English- only'' measures and
 similar language restrictionist measures.


Republicans Democrats

William F. Goodling (PA), Chmn. William "Bill" Clay (MO)
Thomas E. Petri (WI) George E. Miller (CA)
Marge S. Roukema (NJ) Dale E. Kildee (MI)
Steven Gunderson (WI) Pat Williams (MT)
Harris W. Fawell (IL) Matthew G. Martinez (CA)
Cass Ballenger (NC) Major R. Owens (NY)
Bill Barrett (NE) Thomas G. Sawyer (OH)
Randy Cunningham (CA) Donald M. Payne (NJ)
Peter Hoekstra (MI) Patsy T. Mink (HI)
Howard McKeon (CA) Robert E. Andrews (NJ)
Michael Castle (DE) John F. "Jack" Reed (RI)
Jan Meyers (KS) Timothy J. Roemer (IN)
Sam Johnson (TX) Eliot L. Engel (NY)
James Talent (MO) Xavier Becerra (CA)
James Greenwood (PA) Robert C. "Bobby" Scott (VA)
Tim Hutchinson (AR) Gene Green (TX)
Joe Knollenberg (MI) Lynn Woolsey (CA)
Frank Riggs (CA) Carlos A. Romero-Barcelo (PR)
Lindsey Graham (SC) Mel Reynolds (IL)
Dave Weldon (FL)
David Funderburk (NC)
Mark Souder (IN)
David McIntosh (IN)
Charles Norwood (GA)
Mail to author|Respond to list|Read more issues|LINGUIST home page|Top of issue