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Nativism Reborn?

Nativism Reborn?: The Official English Language Movement and the American States

Raymond Tatalovich
Copyright Date: 1995
Pages: 336
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    Nativism Reborn?
    Book Description:

    In July 1992 Senator Robert C. Byrd (D-WV) angrily suggested during floor debate... that the United States should not continue accepting immigrants mho speak no English. "I pick up the telephone and call the local garage," Byrd said. "I can't understand the person on the other side of the line. I'm not sure he can understand me. They're all over the place, and they don't speak English. We want more of this?" Later he apologized for the remark, saying, "I regret that in the heat of the moment I spoke unwisely."

    Is America in the midst of another backlash against foreigners? In the wide-ranging controversy over multiculturalism that has generated much heat in recent years, one of the most volatile issues is whether the United States should reflect a dominant English-speaking majority or encourage a multilingual culture.

    Tied up with this emotional issue is a growing anxiety on the part of many Americans about the new wave of non-European immigrants. "It is not without significance," says S.I. Hayakawa, who was a founder of U.S. English, "that pressure against English language legislation does not come from any immigrant group other than the Hispanic: not from the Chinese or Koreans or Filipinos or Vietnamese; nor from immigrant Iranians, Turks, Greeks, East Indians, Ghanians, Ethiopians, Italians, or Swedes."

    Raymond Tatalovich has conducted the first detailed, systematic, and empirical study of the official English movement in the United States, seeking answers to two crucial questions: What motivations underlie the agitation for official English? Does the movement originate at the grassroots level or is it driven by elites?

    Since 1980, fifteen states have passed laws establishing English as the official language -- Alabama, Arkansas, Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Kentucky, Mississippi, North Carolina, North Dakota, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Virginia. Three more laws, in Hawaii, Illinois, and Nebraska, predate the current agitation. The official language laws in ten of the states are wholly symbolic, but in the remaining eight they go beyond symbolism to stipulate some kind of enforcement. Four states have passed English Plus laws -- New Mexico, Oregon, Rhode Island, and Washington. In addition some major cities -- Atlanta, Cleveland, Dallas, San Antonio, Tucson, and Washington,D.C. -- have also adopted English Plus laws or resolutions.

    Tatalovich hypothesized five possible motivations for the official English movement: race (hostility of the majority toward a minority), ethnicity (conflict between minori-ties), class (reaction by lower socioeconomic groups), politics (partisan or ideological backlash), and culture (anti-foreign sentiment).

    His analysis is based on an eclectic range of sources, from historical documents, legal records, and court decisions to news accounts and interviews. In many southern states where the issue has recently assumed prominence, he found that support for the initiative is identified as a residue of nativism. Tatalovich empirically shows linkage between support today for official English and opposition in the South to immigration in the 1920s.

    This study not only is definitive but also is a dispassionate analysis of an issue that seems destined to become even more controversial in the next few years. It makes a notable contribution to the current debate over multiculturalism and will be of special interest to sociologists, historians of contemporary social history, linguists, legal scholars, and political scientists who study public policy, minority politics, and comparative state politics.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-5659-0
    Subjects: Language & Literature, Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-vii)
  3. List of Tables
    (pp. viii-x)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  5. Introduction: Language Policy as Moral Conflict
    (pp. 1-20)

    This study addresses an issue that is not a salient matter of concern for most Americans, though it carries the potential, given the politics of the moment, to become a highly charged and emotional topic. In July 1992 Senator Robert C. Byrd (D-W. Va.) angrily suggested during floor debate on a Bush Administration proposal to aid the former Soviet republics and to make immigrants from other countries eligible for welfare that the United States should not continue accepting immigrants who speak no English. “I pick up the telephone and call the local garage,” Byrd said. “I can’t understand the person...

  6. 1 Scope of the Study, Methods, and Hypotheses
    (pp. 21-32)

    In 1920 Nebraska was the first state to establish English as an official language by constitutional amendment. The earliest statutory enactment was in Illinois; its 1923 law designating “American” as the state’s official language was revised in 1969 to make English the official language. In 1978 Hawaii made English and Hawaiian both official languages by a constitutional amendment. During 1981-90 ten midwestern and southern states established this policy by legislation, but more significant politically was the 1986 referendum vote in California amending the state constitution to codify English as the state’s official language. Three referenda in 1988 in Florida, Arizona,...

  7. 2 Wartime Hysteria: The Nebraska Episode
    (pp. 33-62)

    The first official language laws, passed in Nebraska and Illinois, came at the height of the 1920s nativism that followed in the wake of World War I and reached a climax with the enactment of federal quotas on immigration. Did like motivations underlie those laws? Were the issues raised in the public debate similar to those being heard today? Were the laws historical oddities or indicators of a broad-based political backlash? In this chapter Nebraska is given detailed scrutiny; chapter 3 offers a discussion of Illinois and the National Origins Act of 1924. It is commonplace for opponents of English...

  8. 3 Antecedents of Nativism: The 1920s and the 1980s
    (pp. 63-83)

    The driving force of nativism during the 1920s led to the enactment by Congress of the National Origins Act of 1924, which imposed strict quotas against people from southern and eastern Europe, as well as Asia and Africa, while favoring emigration from England and northern European countries. In this chapter I take a close look at the congressional debate over that legislation, both to show that nativist feelings were openly expressed in the House of Representatives and to document the extent of anti-immigrant sentiment by each state congressional delegation. Once those facts are established, I will attempt to determine the...

  9. 4 Referendum Politics: The Beginnings of Agitation in Florida and California
    (pp. 84-130)

    The beginnings of the recent controversy over official English can be traced to issues of local concern in Florida, California, and Virginia. In 1980 proponents succeeded in gaining voter approval for the first countywide English Only law in Dade County, Florida. At about the same time, agitation in San Francisco over the use of bilingual ballots in elections resulted in an advisory referendum that called for a halt to the practice. The Virginia episode, which concerned federal bilingual education mandates, is discussed in chapter 7.

    In Florida and California, local skirmishes gave rise to grassroots movements to codify English as...

  10. 5 Arizona, Colorado, and Texas: The Agitation for Official English Spreads
    (pp. 131-172)

    Arizona and Colorado also had constitutional amendments on the November 1988 ballot to establish English as their official languages. In this chapter I will discuss the political dynamics affecting the controversy in these states and then chronicle the failed attempt in Texas. Next I will summarize all five cases—Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, and Texas—in order to draw some conclusions about the origin and evolution of each dispute, the key actors, the roles played by political elites, public opinion and organized interests, and the nature of the debate triggered by these ballot propositions.

    “Encouraging people not to learn English...

  11. 6 Majority Opinion and the Official English Controversy
    (pp. 173-194)

    In this chapter I will review the few existing studies of public opinion on official English, examine the 1990 and 1992 National Election Studies, and then analyze voting statistics in five referenda in order to draw conclusions about public attitudes. Although polling data and voting outcomes show widespread support for establishing English as the official language, raw totals do not indicate which Americans are most disposed to supporting that cause and what groups, if any, constitute that distinct minority that is opposed to this kind of legislation. Determining which socioeconomic and political factors affect support and opposition will add to...

  12. 7 Legislative Intent: Why States Passed Official English Laws
    (pp. 195-224)

    In this chapter I evaluate the legislative process by which official English bills were enacted in nine states—Arkansas, Indiana, Kentucky, Mississippi, North Carolina, North Dakota, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Virginia—to assess why the issue was brought before those state legislatures. The cases are discussed in chronological order, beginning with Virginia. Archival records varied greatly among the states. Legislative histories were available for all the cases, and seven states recorded how members voted on the final roll call, but the only states that retained complete files of committee reports and hearing statements were North Carolina and North Dakota. While...

  13. 8 State Legislative Processes and Official English
    (pp. 225-242)

    This chapter offers a portrait of the members of state legislatures who chose to lead the fight to change existing law, a battle bound to provoke much controversy in western states with sizable Spanish-speaking minority groups. What is more curious is why legislators in other states even bothered to raise this issue. Given the purely symbolic content of the legislation, how much opposition would be generated, and by whom? Did the issue provoke partisan or racial division among the political elite, and if so, where? These data are especially appropriate for evaluating, at the elite level, five alternative hypotheses about...

  14. Conclusion: Rational Arguments, Irrational Fears: Is the Official English Campaign Benign or Malevolent?
    (pp. 243-258)

    What conclusions about official English can be drawn from the case studies, comparative research, and statistical analyses? Is this movement based on economic grievances or political opportunism or racial and ethnic animosities? Is the backlash being manipulated by political leaders, or are they being forced to accommodate an angry electorate? The evidence points in two directions, which offer differing though complementary explanations for why fifteen states enacted official English laws between 1981 and 1990.

    The racial hypothesis is a difficult one to evaluate. Polls are generally consistent in finding that whites are much more supportive of official English than any...

  15. Appendix A Official Endorsers of English Plus Information Clearinghouse
    (pp. 261-262)
  16. Appendix B State Official English Language Laws
    (pp. 263-269)
  17. Appendix C Multiple and Logistical Regression Models
    (pp. 270-280)
  18. Notes
    (pp. 281-314)
  19. Index
    (pp. 315-320)