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A bilingual society and the dominance of English

    Predominance of immigrants in the USA:

    "In its short history, the United States has probably been host to more bilingual people than any other country in the world. Each new wave of immigrants has brought with it its own language and then witnessed the erosion of that language in the face of the implicitly acknowledged public language, English." (Hakuta, p.166)

    e.g. 1940: 53% of second-generation white Americans reported English as their mother tongue. In their parents’ generation only 25% had English as their mother tongue.

  • substantial shift in just one generation
  • tendency towards monolingualism


History of the diversity of languages in America

    "John Adams’ proposal to set up a national language academy, which would give English the official stamp of approval and prescribe its ‘proper’ usage, was debated by the founding fathers and rejected." (Hakuta, p165)

  • incompatible with the spirit of freedom

    Despite the lack of constitutional protection, English has a privileged position ensured by pressures applied at an institutional level, primarily in state schools, and to achieve US citizenship.

19th and 20th century -

  • Millions of Europeans came to America
  • Nationalism and Xenophobia

    e.g. German was prohibited in many schools and in public

    "These laws prohibiting the use of foreign languages in the schools were declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court in 1923, but the damage had been done." (Hakuta, p168)

    Impact still visible.

    Other languages also discriminated against:

  • Japanese-language schools closed during the Second World War.
  • Hispanics were punished for using Spanish in school until the 1960’s.

1950’s and 1960’s:

  • times of great political turmoil
  • school segregation was declared unconstitutional
  • Sputnik shock demand for major reforms
  • bilingual and immersion programs started in the USA and Canada

Recent immigrants see a value in keeping their own language and cultural traditions. In states with a high percentage of immigrants who speak languages such as Spanish and Chinese, bilingual schooling is available; students can continue to study subjects in their own language while learning English.

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