Anti-Bilingual Initiative
"Babel" in Schools

Bilingual Ballots
Bilingual Education
Bilingual Research
Demographic Change
Endangered Languages
English Only
English Plus
Language Rights
Language Legislation
Life After Prop. 227
Muhlenberg Legend
"Multilingual Government
National Identity
Official English
Opinion Polls
Puerto Rico
Research Controversy

Issues in U.S. Language Policy

Canards n. 1. Ducks intended or used for food. 2. False, typically slanderous, reports or characterizations. 

Factual disputes are a feature of every policy debate. But they loom especially large in the conflict over English Only. While language diversity is hardly a new issue in U.S. history, it is a new issue to most living Americans. So there's a vacuum of reliable information. This has created an environment in which ethnic stereotypes, romantic myths, and folk wisdom can flourish.

Such a vacuum favors those who advance simplistic claims. For example:

  • that English has been the "common bond" of American nationhood
  • that earlier immigrants were quick to learn English 
  • that bilingual accommodations discourage today's Hispanics and Asians from doing so 
  • that diversity inevitably causes dissension
  • that English Only restrictions will foster unity
Journalists have not helped the situation. Often they have gobbled up the misrepresentations, both large and small, served up by English Only groups. Once ingested into the media "food chain," such errors are recycled until they become part of the conventional wisdom.

To take a small but irritating example: the claim that 30 states have adopted Official English legislation has been reprinted in scores of popular articles. (Irritating to me at least, a former reporter who expects some attempt at fact-checking.) In fact:

  • The organized English Only movement – which dates from 1983 – can claim credit for inspiring such measures in 24 states.
  • Three states – Nebraska, Illinois, and Virginia – enacted Official English laws at earlier times.
  • In 1978, Hawai`i adopted both English and Native Hawaiian as its official languages – that is, official bilingualism, which contradicts everything the English Only movement represents.
  • Official English measures have been declared unconstitutional by state courts in Alaska and Arizona, although Arizonans passed a less restrictive version in 2006.
  • Louisiana – which U.S. English recently added to the list – has no Official English policy whatsoever. To the contrary, its constitution recognizes minority language rights (one of the few states to do so). Yet Louisiana continues to be hailed as an English Only state in the national press and the halls of Congress.
  • Massachusetts, another state claimed by Official English advocates on the basis of a casual (and uninformed) statement by a state court in 1975, has never had such a law. Efforts to enact one have been rejected several times by the state legislature since the late 1980s.
  • A fair and accurate total of Official English states – 24 + 4 - 2 (Alaska and Hawaii) – is 26. For more details, see my language legislation page.
Several other species of canards were flushed out during the 1996 House debate on H.R. 123 and the campaigns against bilingual education in California and Arizona:

Washington Post Blames Bilingual Education for Increasing LEP Population

Ron Unz, Ventriloquist

Ron Unz on Bilingual Education

Diane Ravitch on Bilingual Education

Demographic Change

"Multilingual Government"

Official English Opinion Polls

Puerto Rico

"Babel" in the Schools

Bilingual Voting Rights

Muhlenberg Legend

Language and National Identity

COPYRIGHT NOTICE: Copyright © 1997-2007 by James Crawford. All rights reserved. Feel free to print or download this excerpt for personal use. But republication of this material in any form and for any purpose – including course use and Internet postings – is prohibited, except by permission of the author, at Before writing, please read my permissions FAQ.