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

Reviewer: Cindy Schneider
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: 12.468

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

Reviewed by Cindy Schneider, University of New England,
Armidale, Australia.

Until recently, language policy has seldom figured
prominently in American political debate. Nevertheless, the
seemingly innocuous language choices taken by individuals
and communities have sometimes resulted in explosive,
emotional controversy. This book looks at language
legislation and bilingual education in the United States
since the colonial era. It focuses particularly on the
1990s, a decade which witnessed a significant amount of
political turmoil surrounding people of a Non-English
Speaking Background (NESB). By framing NESB legislation
within a historical and political context, the book
provides useful insight into this complex issue. The author
has strong credentials in this area, not only as a writer
and lecturer but also as former editor of Education Week.
He is well-versed in a range of issues, which he presents
to the reader as a collection of loosely interrelated

Chapter 1 - Anatomy of the English-Only Movement
This chapter provides a historical overview of the
English-Only movement. Short case studies are used to
illustrate the experiences of NESB minorities in the United
States. Specifically, the experiences of Pennsylvania
Germans, Louisianans, Californios, American Indians, Puerto
Ricans, Native Hawaiians, and European Immigrants are
examined. Crawford suggests that linguistic intolerance is
rooted in a fear of change in the economic and political
status quo, rather than in anything inherently linguistic.
Thus, an attack against language serves as a smokescreen
for deeper fears and hostilities.

Chapter 2 - Boom to Bust: Official English in the 1990s
Chapter Two looks at the political debate surrounding
English-only legislation in the 1990s. Crawford examines
the thinly-veiled racist agenda of US English, an
organisation whose aim is to marginalise linguistic
minorities under the guise of promoting ethnic harmony. He
also discusses the English Language Empowerment Act, which
was so obsessed with promoting English at the expense of
other languages that little thought was given to the
benefits of linguistic plurality or cultural tolerance. It
becomes clear to the reader that, rather than uniting
diverse communities into 'one big family', such restrictive
legislation actually serves to further polarise NESB and
mainstream communities.

Chapter 3 - Endangered Native American Languages
>From here, the book shifts to examine the alarming
decline of Native American languages and the nature of
language loss, generally. Crawford wonders if it is
possible to 'cure' the situation, but feels that this is
unlikely without increased resources and support. This then
leads him to ask: Why should we even care if languages die?
He does well in addressing this question, which is often,
surprisingly, unasked, unanswered, and therefore
inadequately dealt with in linguistics. While specialists
may take the importance of language diversity for granted,
the general public needs to also understand this if their
support for linguistic plurality is to be rallied.

Chapter 4 - Seven Hypotheses on Language Loss
The author offers his understanding of the social and
cultural forces that instigate language shift and loss, and
provides some suggestions about the best ways to counter
this trend. The discussion is organised in the format of
seven separately formulated hypotheses, in an attempt to
contribute towards a theory of language shift. Four Native
American communities (Navajo, Hualapai, Pasqua Yaqui, and
Mississippi Band of Choctaw) are provided as case study
examples. In this way, Crawford is able to highlight the
fact that Native American linguistic communities are not
identical; rather, they are in quite diverse stages of
language maintenance or loss.

Chapter 5 - The Political Paradox of Bilingual Education
Perceptive and thought-provoking, this chapter outlines
the decline in support for bilingual education,
particularly with regard to Title VII, the Bilingual
Education Act. Initially a concern of social reformers,
Title VII was regarded as an innovative solution to
community problems of the late 1960s. Its rapid enactment
into law meant that there has since been confusion about
its goals. Should its purpose be to assimilate learners
into an English-only world, and end at that? Or should its
aim be more culturally pluralistic, where NESB people learn
English while also maintaining their home language? While
this continues to be a matter for debate, the US government
began to impose new regulations in bilingual school
systems, provoking a community backlash. Thus, in effect,
the institutionalisation of bilingual education has also
precipitated its decline in political popularity.

Chapter 6 - The Proposition 227 Campaign: A Post Mortem
Proposition 227, the drastic Californian measure to
eliminate bilingual education in that state, is examined
here. No empirical evidence exists to demonstrate the
superiority of 'sink or swim' English immersion over
bilingual education; yet, Proposition 227 passed by a 61 to
39 percent margin in June 1998. Why couldn't defendants
make an effective case against 227? Crawford expresses
frustration with researchers and educators who were
reluctant to participate in political controversy,
ineffective campaign consultants, over-simplified media
coverage, and the clever marketing strategies of Ron Unz,
the brainchild behind 227. The author concludes this
chapter by emphasising the pressing need for organised
political action in defense of bilingual education, and he
appeals to the readership to mobilise itself.

Critical Evaluation
This publication makes a valuable contribution to the
public discussion on language policy and plurality in the
United States. Readable, up-to-date, and factual, it does
an excellent job of placing policy within a historical and
political context. The book would interest the specialist
and the non-specialist, alike.

The author is full of insightful, intelligent discussion
on how seemingly distant political forces can have a
profound effect upon community language choices. He
correctly observes that, for better or for worse, bilingual
education is a political issue that needs to be defended if
it is to survive. But how should this be done? Perhaps this
requires another whole book. However, a final chapter to
'At War with Diversity', advising on what type of action(s)
would effectively defend linguistic diversity in a hostile
political climate, would have been a satisfying way to wrap
up this interesting collection of essays.

About the reviewer
Cindy Schneider earned her MA in Linguistics in 1998, and
has taught English as a Second Language in the United
States, Mexico, and Australia. Her research interests
include language description, vernacular literacy, and
language policy. She is currently employed as an Associate
Lecturer in Linguistics at the University of New England in
Armidale, New South Wales, Australia.