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Review of  At War with Diversity: U.S. Language Policy in an Age of Anxiety

Reviewer: Laura Michele Callahan
Book Title: At War with Diversity: U.S. Language Policy in an Age of Anxiety
Book Author: James Crawford
Publisher: Multilingual Matters
Linguistic Field(s): Applied Linguistics
Subject Language(s): English
Issue Number: 11.2711

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Crawford, James. 2000. At War with Diversity: US
Language Policy in an Age of Anxiety. Clevedon:
Multilingual Matters. Pages: 143.

Reviewed by Laura Callahan, University of
California, Berkeley

This book is a collection of six essays by the author,
five of which were first published between 1994 and
1999. James Crawford, formerly the Washington
editor of Education Week, is an independent writer
and lecturer who specializes in the politics of
language. He maintains a web site with information
on his publications and current issues in language
legislation and bilingual education in the U.S.:

The first essay, "Anatomy of the English-only
Movement", places the current movement in
historical perspective with a review of language
policy in the United States. Crawford examines the
overt and covert agendas of language legislation, and
describes how popular beliefs prevail at the expense
of empirical knowledge. Under the heading "Historic
Patterns in Language Conflict", seven sketches of
language restrictionism are presented, cases which
affected Pennsylvania Germans, Lousianans,
Californios, American Indians, Puerto Ricans, Native
Hawaiians, and European Immigrants. In "Language
Rights and the English-only Mentality", the symbolic
power of actions on both sides is highlighted, and
support for the English-only movement is attributed
to a fear of changes in the balance of power.
Accommodations for limited-English speakers are
perceived as an acknowledgement of rights not
previously recognized, whereas language restrictions
"reinforce the existing social order" (27).

The second essay, "Boom to Bust: Official English in
the 1990s", moves from the panoramic view of
the preceding paper to a focus on the period from
1988 to the present. In the late 1980s the movement
lost supporters after a memo in which US English
founder John Tanton expressed anti-Latino prejudice
was made public. The essay traces the movement's
trajectory from internal strife in the early 1990s to its
resurgence a few years later. After the scandal
linking US English to organizations promoting
eugenics and white supremacy, English-
only forces regrouped and emerged with a new
message. They were at pains to disassociate the
movement from racist agendas, especially as the
voting power of Latinos and Asians grew. The
empowerment of immigrants through the learning of
English was emphasized. An alternative with no
restrictive provisions was also proposed: English
Plus, a bill which would recognize English as the
official language of the United States, while
encouraging all residents to learn or maintain skills in
a language other than English.

In the third essay, "Endangered Native American
Languages: What Is To Be Done, and Why?",
Crawford cites the familiar analogy between the
extinction of species and languages. He cautions
against extending this analogy to its Darwinian
conclusion, which would imply "that some languages
are fitter than others" (55). He makes the important
point that while no linguist would advance such
an argument, laypersons do, and this group includes
voters and legislators. The mechanics of language
death are examined, and the author concludes that the
dichotomy represented by the terms "language
murder" and "language suicide" is simplistic
in light of evidence that languages succumb to a
combination of external and internal forces. The loss
of Native American languages is discussed. This
loss has continued to accelerate even after the closing
of Bureau of Indian Affairs boarding schools, where
children were kept apart from their families by force.
The utility of revitalization efforts is debated, and the
section "Why Should We Care?" examines four
arguments in favor of language preservation: (1) the
death of any language is a loss to science; (2) the loss
of a language represents a loss of intellectual
diversity, based on the Sapir-Whorfian
hypothesis that linguistic structure determines
speakers' perception and cognition; (3) loss of
linguistic diversity is analogous to loss of
biodiversity; and (4) language conservation is a
matter of social justice. This last argument focuses
on the human cost to speakers whose language
becomes extinct, with its implications of a loss of
self-worth for members of especially vulnerable
populations. Crawford considers this argument to be
the most effective one. He states that "language death
does not happen in privileged communities. It
happens to the dispossessed and the disempowered,
peoples who most need their cultural resources to
survive" (63).

In the fourth essay, "Seven Hypotheses on Language
Loss", a brief description of the symptoms of
language loss is given, followed by an exposition of
the hypotheses referred to in the title: (1) Language
shift is very difficult to impose from without; (2)
Language shift is determined primarily by changes
internal to language communities themselves; (3) If
language choices reflect social and cultural values,
language shift reflects a change in those values; (4) If
language shift reflects a change in values, so too must
efforts to reverse language shift; (5) Language shift
cannot be reversed by outsiders, however well-
meaning; (6) Successful strategies for reversing
language shift demand an understanding of the stage
we are currently in; (7) At this stage in the United
States, the key task is to develop indigenous
leadership. The third hypothesis includes a look at
four cases, involving communities of Navajo,
Hualapai, Pasqua Yaqui, and Mississippi Choctaw.
The paper concludes with an appeal for the
development of indigenous leadership, an emphasis
on situation-specific solutions, and an avoidance of
expensive technology projects which foster the
notion that something is being done but are in reality
of limited use.

The fifth essay, "The Political Paradox of Bilingual
Education", traces the implementation and
ramifications of bilingual education in the U.S. from
the Bilingual Education Act of 1968 to the present.
The goals of transition and maintenance are
examined, and the author asserts that the conflict
between these two terms is "a product of political,
not pedagogical, necessity" (87). In a look at
California's Proposition 227, the so-called "English
for the Children" initiative passed in 1998, he makes
the point that voters were asked to decide on a
complex issue without benefit of the necessary
technical and theoretical knowledge: "One might as
well ask the electorate to choose a treatment for
AIDS or to select the design of the next space
station" (96). In the section "Language Rights,
American Style", Crawford contends that the U.S.
concentration on individual rights to bilingualism
ignores the collective rights of linguistic
communities. "The Once and Future Politics of
Bilingualism" gives a glimpse of early bilingual
education programs such as those run by German
immigrants in Texas and the Cherokee Nation of
Oklahoma in the nineteenth century.

The sixth and final essay, "The Proposition 227
Campaign: A Post Mortem", is an analysis of this
initiative's victory, and a consideration of what
alternative strategies its opponents might have used.
Two factors mentioned as contributing to the defeat
of the latter are their refusal to take seriously
complaints about bilingual education programs, and
failure to educate the public on the methodologies
used. The author points out: "Bilingual approaches
are often counter-intuitive, not only for members of
the public but also for the parents of English
learners" (107). The failure of the No on 227
campaign and the success of the bill's supporters are
attributed primarily to ineffective versus brilliant
manipulation of the media, and a detailed account of
reporting on both sides of the campaign is given.
Proposition 227 stipulates the mainstreaming of
students with limited English proficiency after just
one year in a sheltered English immersion classroom,
as well as financial penalties for educators who
violate the mandate to "teach 'overwhelmingly in
English'" (112). Crawford points out that it was the
concept of bilingual education rather than the
provisions of the bill itself that was debated during
the campaign.

This collection's greatest strength is its concise
exposition of the historical background of
U.S. language legislation and how policies are
informed by prevailing sociopolitical contexts.
The book's title signals its orientation to the subject,
treatment of which is generally even-handed. One
only occasionally misses a more neutral tone.
Crawford's very readable prose would make this an
excellent source of articles for an undergraduate
course in sociolinguistics, or to supplement a
graduate seminar's reading list. There is some
overlap in content between the essays, to be
expected since they were written as independent
pieces, but this adds to rather than detracts from the
work's overall cohesion. The reference section,
which includes current newspaper and online
sources, and the well-organized index, add to the
book's utility. The addition of a brief glossary to
help the reader distinguish between names that refer
variously to movements, organizations, and pieces of
legislation would be helpful.

About the reviewer
Laura Callahan is a Ph.D. candidate in the
Department of Spanish and Portuguese at the
University of California, Berkeley. Her research
interests include language attitudes, politics and policy,
language choice and commercial factors, and
codeswitching in written language. She is about to
complete her dissertation, "Spanish/English
Codeswitching in Fiction: A Grammatical and
Discourse Function Analysis".


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