The English-Only Question


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An Official Language for Americans?

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Should the United States declare English its official language? The "English-only" question, which has plagued American citizens since the founding of the country, has once again become the focus of heated debate, with an English Language Amendment to the Constitution pending in Congress since 1981. In this lively and engrossing book, an often-quoted authority on the English language provides the first comprehensive, historically based discussion of this troubling issue. Dennis Baron dispassionately explores the philosophical, legal, political, educational, and sociological implications of the official-English movement, tracing the history of American attitudes toward English and minority languages during the past two centuries.
Baron describes how battles to save English or minority languages have been fought in the press, the schools, the courts, and the legislatures of the country. According to Baron, the impulse to impose English and limit other languages has repeatedly arisen during periods of political or economic ferment, when non-English speakers have been targeted as subversive, unemployable, or otherwise resistant to assimilation. However, says Baron, many supporters of the English Language Amendment are not xenophobic but are people who believe in the ideal of one language for one nation and who argue that mastery of English is the only way to succeed in America. Baron discusses the recent background of the English Language Amendment, explains the arguments on each side, and assesses its future. His book will enable policymakers, voters, legislators, and educators to better understand the complex issues that surround the question of an official language for America.

"An authoritative source for both scholarly and public discussions of the official language question."—Geoffrey Nunberg, Dept. of Linguistics, Stanford University

"In a valuable, dispassionate study, University of Illinois English professor Baron demonstrates that the drive for language assimilation has waxed during periods of economic downslide or isolationism, when non-English speakers have been targeted as subversive, unemployable, disruptive or resistant to assimilation."—Publishers Weekly

"A very insightful book on the issue of whether English should receive recognition as the official language of the U. S. as proposed in the English Language Amendment (ELA). The book is arranged into six well-researched units accompanied by an extensive bibliography. . . . The text is unique in that it provides a very comprehensive and balanced discussion on what is a complex and often quite emotional subject; especially helpful is the author's presentation on the historical aspects of the ELA question, in which he shows that earlier attempts to pass ELA proposals have been in times of national emergency or high immigration. . . . Although written by an academic probably primarily for a graduate/faculty audience, almost all of the information should also be of great value to legislators, policymakers, and educators."—Choice

"Baron . . . has provided a much-needed perspective. He has included useful, sometimes eloquent, passages from many writers on the English language: Walt Whitman, James Fenimore Cooper, Alexis de Toqueville, Noah Webster, Benjamin Franklin, H. L. Mencken, Vachel Lindsay, Edwin Newman, and others."—Hazel Sample Guyol, New York City Tribune

"An extensively researched history that is objective and laced with insightful anecdotes."—Education Week

"In this dispassionate look at the issues, an English professor at the University of Illinois argues that the problem to which an official American language is suggested as a solution does not exist."—The Washington Post Book World

"Baron, a noted professor of linguistics and rhetoric and an expert on the subject, closely examines both sides of the complex controversy surrounding whether minority-based languages should in effect be outlawed by making English the country's only legally accepted language. . . . [An] intriguing study. . . . Objective, thoroughly researched, and clearly presented—a real eye-opener."—Booklist

"The author's well-researched account outlines the current status of the official English language movement, examines its history, and details the major forces behind it."—Booklist

"Lively reading. . . . Provocative."—Brian Weinstein, American Journal of Sociology

"Baron has provided the reader with much food for thought."—George J. Sanchez, History of Education Quarterly

"The author presents an excellent historical analysis of the movement to have the English Language Amendment written into the U.S. Constitution. . . . A superb introduction into the official language debate."—Marko Modiano, Moderna Sprak
ISBN: 9780300048520
Publication Date: September 26, 1990