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Press "ONE" for English

Press "ONE" for English: Language Policy, Public Opinion, and American Identity

Deborah J. Schildkraut
Copyright Date: 2005
Pages: 256
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  • Book Info
    Press "ONE" for English
    Book Description:

    Press "ONE" for English examines how Americans form opinions on language policy issues such as declaring English the official language, printing documents in multiple languages, and bilingual education. Deborah Schildkraut shows that people's conceptions of American national identity play an integral role in shaping their views. Using insights from American political thought and intellectual history, she highlights several components of that identity and shows how they are brought to bear on debates about language. Her analysis expands the range of factors typically thought to explain attitudes in such policy areas, emphasizing in particular the role that civic republicanism's call for active and responsible citizenship plays in shaping opinion on language issues.

    Using focus groups and survey data, Schildkraut develops a model of public conceptions of what it means to be American and demonstrates the complex ways in which people draw on these conceptions when forming and explaining their views. In so doing she illustrates how focus group methodology can help yield vital new insights into opinion formation.

    With the rise in the use of ballot initiatives to implement language policies, understanding opinion formation in this policy area has become imperative. This book enhances our understanding of this increasingly pressing concern, and points the way toward humane, effective, and broadly popular language policies that address the realities of American demographics in the twenty-first century while staying true to the nation's most revered values.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-4933-8
    Subjects: Political Science

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. List of Figure and Tables
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xii)
  5. CHAPTER ONE Introduction
    (pp. 1-20)

    In 1996, Wayland H. Cooley, the tax assessor of Madison County, Alabama, was sued for refusing to grant a tax credit—a local benefit that is supposed to be given to people who live in the homes that they own rather than renting them out—to a Korean-American family and to other minorities. He defended his action by arguing that even with a translator, he could not be sure if their oath of residency was accurate. He also maintained that his refusal to grant the credit was in accord with the state’s constitution, which declares that English is the official...

    (pp. 21-37)

    As the previous quotes from Representatives Torkildsen and Pelosi illustrate, the debate about whether to make English the official language of the United States is often couched in terms that refer to ideas about what it means to be American or about what the United States stands for. Whether the arguments favor or oppose official-English proposals, the stakes are often seen to be the same: people fear that the very idea of the United States will be threatened if the other side gets its way. How can this be? Can both sides legitimately claim to be the guardian of American...

  7. CHAPTER THREE Theories of American Identity
    (pp. 38-66)

    In his extensive study of how ideas about American identity have shaped citizenship laws in the United States, Smith (1997) defines a “civic myth” as “a myth used to explain why persons form a people, usually indicating how a political community originated, who is eligible for membership, who is not and why, and what the community’s values and aims are” (33). He then describes how three civic myths in particular—liberalism, civic republicanism, and ethnoculturalism—have collectively directed the legal and judicial politics of citizenship from colonial days through the Progressive Era. He argues that all three have at different...

  8. CHAPTER FOUR American Identity in Surveys
    (pp. 67-85)

    The wake of the changing demography in the United States is replete with debates about the societal, environmental, and economic effects that immigration is having in the United States. Interest groups on all sides of the issue have sprung to life, and concerns about what immigration means for the future of America have become common topics of discourse in the media and in law-making bodies. Accompanying these debates is media coverage of census estimates stating that whites will no longer be a majority in the United States by the end of the twenty-first century, if not sooner. Major newspapers have...

  9. CHAPTER FIVE Defining American National Identity
    (pp. 86-126)

    Trying to define “what it means to be an American” is much like V. O. Key’s (1963) famous description of trying to understand public opinion: “[It] is a task not unlike coming to grips with the Holy Ghost” (8). This apparently insurmountable difficulty, however, does not stop political scientists and observers of American politics and culture from trying. Some notable attempts have been made by people such as Michael Walzer (1996), Seymour Martin Lipset (1963), Rogers Smith (1997), and Michael Lind (1995), to name but a few. Most efforts at pinning down the Holy Ghost of American identity focus on...

  10. CHAPTER SIX Discussing Language Policy
    (pp. 127-161)

    Much of this book has been concerned with establishing that there are multiple conceptions of American national identity and that these conceptions have the power to shape how people feel about political issues. The purpose of the next two chapters is to examine how these several notions of American identity are related to policy preferences on official-English and English-only ballots.¹ By drawing on Smith’s tripartite description of American national identity—consisting of liberalism, civic republicanism, and ethnoculturalism—I improve upon public opinion research that has sought to understand the relationship between identity and opinions. Smith’s treatment of American identity encompasses...

    (pp. 162-192)

    I demonstrated in the previous chapter that a model of American identity consisting of liberalism, civic republicanism, ethnoculturalism, and incorporationism provides a compelling and fruitful model for analyzing attitudes about language policy. The content analysis of focus group transcripts revealed that each conception is invoked regularly to justify policy preferences and that each one has a complex and contested relationship to how people feel about the unity or multiplicity of languages in the public sphere. Yet it also revealed that a sizable proportion of the thoughts are not accounted for by a model that only looks at pure expressions of...

  12. CHAPTER EIGHT Conclusion
    (pp. 193-206)

    Two main questions have guided the analysis throughout this book. The first question is why so many people express support for restrictive language policies, such as making English the official language of the United States or printing election materials only in English. The widespread support that is shown on survey after survey is curious, especially in light of a firmly entrenched incentive structure that clearly promotes the learning of English. This incentive structure, along with the continued prominence of English in public life in America (and all over the world), suggests that an official-English law would at best be superfluous...

  13. Appendix A: Exploratory Factor Analysis of American Identity Items (1996 GSS)
    (pp. 207-208)
  14. Appendix B: Question Wording and Coding for 1996 GSS Data Analyzed in Chapter 4
    (pp. 209-212)
  15. Appendix C: Focus Group Procedures
    (pp. 213-221)
  16. Appendix D: Question Guide for Focus Groups
    (pp. 222-223)
  17. Appendix E: Coding Ambivalent and Opinionless Policy-related Thoughts
    (pp. 224-226)
  18. References
    (pp. 227-236)
  19. Index
    (pp. 237-244)