LINGUIST List 11.2711

Thu Dec 14 2000

Review: Crawford: At War with Diversity

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  • Lcallahan, Review: Crawford "At War with Diversity"

    Message 1: Review: Crawford "At War with Diversity"

    Date: Mon, 11 Dec 2000 00:16:08 EST
    From: Lcallahan <>
    Subject: Review: Crawford "At War with Diversity"

    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

    Synopsis 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.: < jwcrawford/home.htm>

    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.

    Comments 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".