STUDENT CASE STUDY—BURLEY
SHOULD ENGLISH BE THE OFFICIAL LANGUAGE OF THE UNITED STATES?
CASE STUDY FOR AAC&U STIRS PROJECT
Lynn Burley, Associate Professor of Linguistics in the Department of Writing, The University of
Central Arkansas, Conway, AR
Learning Objectives
By the conclusion of this case study, students will be able to:
1. Define basic concepts and terminology related to language planning and policy.
2. Evaluate the United States’ current policies related to language use.
3. Develop necessary hypotheses for exploring whether or not English should be the
official language of the United States.
4. Articulate aspects of the complex relationship between language and its historical,
social, and cultural contexts.
5. Explain the issues involved with collecting language data.
6. Interpret data tables.
7. Formulate arguments for or against English as the official language of the United States.
Preparation
Read through this case study to get an idea of the issues involved in making English the official
language of the United States. To begin, you should read the following texts, all of which are
available online. These readings will help you understand the issues regarding making English
the official language of the United States. As you progress through the case study, you will find
additional readings.
1. Crawford, J. 2008b. “Monolingual and Proud of It.” In Advocating for English Language
Learners: Selected Essays.
http://www.languagepolicy.net/books/AEL/Crawford_Monlingual_and_Proud.pdf.
2. Crawford, J. 2008a. “Frequently Asked Questions about Official English.”
http://www.elladvocates.org/documents/englishonly/OfficialEnglishFAQ.pdf.
3. McAlpin, K. C. 2014. “Why English Should Be the Official Language of the United
States.” https://www.proenglish.org/official-english/why-official-english.html.
4. US English, Inc. 2014. “What Is Official English?” http://usenglish.org/userdata/file/WhatisOfficialEnglish.pdf.
5. Linguistic Society of America (LSA). 1996. “Language Rights.”
http://www.linguisticsociety.org/files/lsa-stmt-language-rights.pdf.
Note: In an effort to focus this case study, the use of the term citizen refers to people legally
recognized as members of the United States by the US government by birthright or
naturalization and who have the rights and protections of the United States.
STUDENT CASE STUDY—BURLEY
Introduction
English is not the official language of the United States, yet many people believe it is because
most of us speak English, our schools teach in English, our government uses English in its daily
work, and everyone knows you need English to get a good job. Some people feel that English
needs to be designated by law as the official language. This case study will help you decide if
the United States should make English the official language and what this would mean if English
were official. We will examine some concepts involved in this issue, what the two sides believe,
and some factors that complicate the issue such as the implications of such a law on Native
American communities and our educational system.
Background
What does it mean to say that a country has an official language?
There are many ways of classifying the more than seven thousand languages spoken in the
world today, but Ethnologue: Languages of the World (Lewis, Simons, and Fennig 2014a), the
most comprehensive resource on languages available, classifies the status of languages in two
ways: in terms of how endangered the language is and its status within a given country. Status
may range from a national language mandated by law, such as in Spain where their Constitution
requires all government business be conducted in Spanish, to a de facto national language, such
as in the United States and the United Kingdom, where government business is conducted in
English but this is not mandated by law. A de facto national language is the language of national
identity of its citizens. In the United States, many people feel to become an American one must
speak English [see, for example, Ricento 2013, para. 6].
An official language does not mean it is the only language spoken in that country. For example,
Spain has fifteen languages, including Basque, a language spoken by over half a million people
in Spain (Lewis, Simons, and Fennig 2014b). Basque is designated as a statutory provincial
language by Spain, meaning that the business of the provincial government in that region of
Spain is by law conducted in Basque rather than Spanish. Basque rather than Spanish is the
language the citizens of that region identify themselves with even though they live in Spain.
Some countries have multiple official languages. French, Italian, and Standard German are the
official languages of Switzerland, and Swiss German, a separate language from Standard
German, is spoken by about half of the population (Lewis, Simons, and Fennig 2014c). Most
countries with two or more official languages either have ethnic populations who identify with
one of the languages, or a colonial language was once imposed upon the native population and
became the language of government. Historically, when a country or territory was conquered,
annexed, or became dominated by a large number of immigrants, the language brought in by
the outsiders became known as a colonial language, not indigenous to the native populations.
In Kenya, for instance, the British ruled from 1895 to 1963, imposing the English language on
the native populations who spoke a total of sixty-seven other languages. When Jomo Kenyatta
became the first president in 1974, he declared that Kiswahili would be the language of
government, a native language spoken by relatively few, so that the larger ethnic groups would
not have dominant power (Salzmann, Stanlaw, and Adachi 2012, 292). English, however,
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STUDENT CASE STUDY—BURLEY
remains one of two official languages despite the fact that less than 25,000 of the over 86
million Kenyan citizens speak the language.
Question One: Although English is not the official language of the United States, it is a colonial
language brought by the British that has had a great effect on the country since Europeans first
came. Discuss some of those effects, considering native populations and immigrant
populations.
What is the role of national identity and language?
Language is a part of every person. The language people use is an expression of who they are,
and it is a way to show to which groups they belong. Some of these groups include one’s
gender, ethnicity, and age as well as the region in which one lives. For example, many
Americans identify the phrase “Y’all” as part of the South, “yinz” as part of Pittsburgh, PA, and
“you guys” as part of the Midwest, North, and West. The use of slang—such as my bestie,
wassup, bro? and awesome!—is associated with teenagers. One of English’s best-known ethnic
dialects is African American English, which has rules for pronunciation and syntax that differ
from Standard English. For example, the use of habitual be as in, “He be cold,” meaning he is
always cold as opposed to “He cold,” which means he is cold right now, but this is not his
normal state. “Cold” would also be pronounced without the final d. People use these ways of
speaking because they belong to the groups who use these ways of speaking. Think about how
odd it is to hear an 80-year-old woman saying “Wassup, bro?” or a United States senator
saying, “Glad to meet yinz” during an interview on the nightly news!
Particular languages are often associated with particular countries: French people speak
French, Italians speak Italian, and Mexicans speak a Mexican variety of Spanish. Along the same
lines, people think of Americans as English speaking. However, there are over twenty native
languages within the borders of France and hundreds within the borders of the United States.
English was not even an original language in America but came with the British settlers.
Americans are a diverse population, made up of native peoples who were there when the
Europeans came in addition to all the immigrants who followed and their descendants from
many parts of the world. Yet, Americans tend to think of the most common language used,
English, as a unifying factor. American English has been modified over time from the original
British English with new vocabulary and changes in pronunciation (our accents), so that now
Americans think of themselves as speaking American English.
In preparation to answer Case Question Two, read

Rothstein, E. “In the United States and Europe, Tensions between a National and
Minority Languages.“ New York Times, May 29, 2006.
http://www.nytimes.com/2006/05/29/arts/29conn.html?pagewanted=all
This article discusses American identity and speaking English by comparing the situation in
Europe and the languages spoken in Germany and France. This article provides a broader
perspective on national identity and language.
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STUDENT CASE STUDY—BURLEY
Question Two: What role do you think national identity plays in the debate of whether or not
English should be the official language?
What do proponents of English as the official language of the United States believe?
US English and ProEnglish are the two most prominent organizations working to “preserve the
unifying role of English” (US English 2014a) and advocating English become the language used
in all government business (ProEnglish 2014b). English First is another organization, a lobbying
and advocacy organization, whose mission is to pass legislation making English the official
language (http://englishfirst.org/d/). Writing for ProEnglish, K. C. McAlpin (2014) states that not
making English the official language “endangers social cohesion and national unity.”
US English wants all government business at both the state and federal levels to be conducted
in English. They do allow for “common-sense exceptions permitting the use of languages other
than English for such things as public health and safety services, judicial proceedings, foreign
language instruction, and the promotion of tourism” (2014b).
Those advocating English as the official language believe:




official English promotes unity;
official English empowers immigrants to learn English;
official English would save money in hiring translators and interpreters, and in printing
government documents in multiple languages; and
bilingual education should be abandoned in favor of short-term, intensive English
programs.
What do opponents of English as the official language believe?
Opponents of English as the official language includes a long list of organizations, including
academic organizations, educational organizations and institutions, government organizations,
and citizens’ groups. The reasons these types of organizations are against English as the official
language can be better understood when considering the implications such a policy would have
on many aspects of American life. Two areas that would be greatly impacted would be the
education system, including foreign language programs and education of non-native speakers,
and the workplace. Official English also raises concerns among Native American populations,
immigrant populations, educators, linguists, and business communities since all of these
entities believe they would be adversely affected.
Those against advocating English as the official language believe official English would cause
 disunity and civil divisiveness;
 cultural disadvantages for America;
 economic disadvantages for Americans;
 loss of Constitutional rights;
 further loss of already endangered Native American languages; and
 a decline in the number of bilingual Americans.
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STUDENT CASE STUDY—BURLEY
How can one say that official English promotes both unity and disunity?
First, we need to read another couple of texts. The first text by Lessow-Hurley (2012) is a
chapter from a book about teaching a second language in schools. This introductory chapter
will give you some background the immigrants in America and the issues surrounding their use
of their native languages.

Lessow-Hurley, J. 2012. “National Unity and Diversity and the Language(s) We Speak.” In
The Foundations of Dual Instruction, 6th ed.
http://www.pearsonhighered.com/assets/hip/us/hip_us_pearsonhighered/samplechap
ter/0132685167.pdf.
You may have heard of the two metaphors she discusses concerning the population of the
United States. Some characterize it as a “melting pot” where all people come together to blend
into a homogenous kind of American. Others use the idea of a “salad bowl” where people
maintain their identities but contribute equally to the whole. One can also apply these
metaphors to understand the concepts of unity and disunity. If all Americans spoke English, it
could be a unifying factor. There would not be any language problems in the schools, in
conducting business within American borders, communicating with one another in daily
business or in personal relationships. It is the goal of most immigrants to learn English so that
they can participate in all aspects of American life (see, for example, “Hispanic Attitudes
Toward Learning English”). Children of immigrants will likely grow up bilingual, speaking their
parents’ language and English. According to Alba et al (2002), by the third generation, children
are monolingual in English since the grandparents’ language will not be spoken in their home
(or if it is, very minimally).
Promoting English exclusively, however, can also be seen as promoting disunity. As you saw in
the reading, the United States has a long history of passing laws intended to make it difficult or
impossible for immigrants to work, attend school, vote, or become citizens. During the
Depression, people in southern California and Texas who looked Mexican were forcibly
removed from the United States and taken to Mexico—whether or not they were citizens of the
United States. Immigrants were viewed negatively; not as an enriching resource to strengthen
the nation but as loathsome people to be feared. Even today, we see evidence of this in
persistent myths of immigrants as people who will take away jobs from Americans, become
freeloaders, and refuse to learn English (see, for example,
http://www.seiu.org/a/immigration/they-take-our-jobs-debunking-immigration-myths.php).
Such attitudes do cause disunity, an “us-against-them” mentality in which people distrust those
who are seen as threatening in some way.
Next, here is a Native American perspective focusing on racial issues involved in making English
an official language. Native Americans have a unique history in America, one that includes
violence, oppression, segregation, forced removal, and forced assimilation. This reading
examines some of the issues that are unique to their culture.

Golden, B. “Is the English-only Bill Racist?” Native American Community Examiner,
March 2, 2009. http://www.examiner.com/article/is-the-english-only-bill-racist.
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STUDENT CASE STUDY—BURLEY
Question Three: Discuss why you think some people perceive those who maintain a language
other than English and an identity other than American as disloyal to America. Explain why you
think it is or is not disloyal.
What are advantages of bilingualism?
Read the following article about the advantages of bilingualism. This information will help you
understand some of the myths concerning learning a second language. Some people believe
growing up bilingual causes delays in learning English or causes one to learn English imperfectly.
These notions have been shown in multiple studies to be false as you will see in this article.
Also, some people believe there are no good reasons to learn a second language unless one
intends to travel abroad or choose a career that requires a second language such as becoming a
translator or a foreign language teacher. This article provides some useful facts and details
about bilingualism.

Marian, V., and A. Shook. 2012. “The Cognitive Benefits of Being Bilingual.” Cerebrum,
13. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3583091/.
One of the main assumptions of those against official English is that such a policy would hurt
foreign language learning for monolingual Americans and discourage use of indigenous and
immigrant languages in indigenous and immigrant communities, thus continuing the tendency
for Americans to remain monolingual. Americans are unlike most people worldwide; globally
more people are bilingual or multilingual than not. There are many advantages to
multilingualism (Valdés 2012). First, there are practical benefits. The American economy is part
of a global economy, which means that business is conducted every day around the world
where millions of people speak well-known languages such as Mandarin Chinese, Spanish,
Arabic, Japanese, Hindi, Portuguese, and Russian. Languages are also most important in
conducting government business in political arenas where lesser-known languages are used.
For example, consider the Middle East where Arabic is most common but other languages such
as Pashto and Dari in Afghanistan, Turkish in Turkey, and Urdu in Pakistan are needed to
communicate.
Another benefit of bilingualism is the impact on cognition. According to Marian and Shook
(2012), the bilingual brain has been shown to have better capacities for attention and taskswitching activities. In young children, being bilingual is associated with better processing of
information in the environment and an improved attention to detail. In older people, less
cognitive decline occurs overall and the onset of dementia is delayed by 4.5 years in bilingual
versus monolingual individuals. Bilinguals also have been shown to be more creative and have
greater professional success (Tadmor et al. 2012). Overall, bilingualism accelerates general
cognitive function (Bialystok 2005).
Also of importance are the social and cultural advantages. Again, according to Marian and
Shook (2012), bilinguals can explore a new culture in that language and can take part in
expanded social networks. Bilinguals have a greater awareness of cultural differences and can
communicate with people not otherwise accessible to monolinguals.
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STUDENT CASE STUDY—BURLEY
For many years, it was thought that bilingualism was harmful to children learning languages:
they would get the languages mixed up, develop language skills more slowly, or never quite
fully develop either language. Many studies have shown that there are some disadvantages to
bilingualism [see, for example Bialystok and Feng (2009), who summarize this research] in that
bilinguals do seem to have a slower rate of recall in verbal memory tasks and typically have
smaller vocabularies than monolinguals, but bilinguals consistently perform better on tasks
involving cognitive control, reasoning, problem solving, and general cognitive flexibility. The
disadvantages of growing up bilingual are negligible compared to the advantages.
Question Four: What evidence is there to support the idea that an official language will
discourage Americans from remaining or becoming bilingual?
How serious is the problem of not speaking English in America?
ProEnglish, an organization working to make English the official language of the United States,
states that America is “deliberately transform(ing) itself into a linguistically divided society,”
and “endanger(ing) social cohesion and national unity,” (McAlpin 2014). We need to decide if
not speaking English is a contributing factor to this, and if so, how serious is the problem?
To address this question, we turn to US government data to see how many people do not speak
English. The US Census Bureau collects data every year in nationwide surveys to find out how
Americans live. Data are collected concerning housing, education, jobs, and personal
characteristics such as age, race, and gender. Some of the questions on the survey ask what
language is spoken in the home, and if a language spoken at home is not English, how well
people in the household do speak English. Consider the data below from the US Census
Bureau’s 2011 American Community Survey (ACS):
Table 1.
Detailed Languages Spoken at Home by English-Speaking Ability for the Population Five Years and Over: 2011
(For information on confidentiality protection, sampling error, nonsampling error, and definitions, see www.census.gov/acs/www/)
Characteristics
Population Five
years and over
(Number)
Population Five
291,524,091
years and over
Spoke only English
230,947,071
at home
Spoke a language
60,577,020
other than English
at home.
Spanish or
37,579,787
Spanish Creole
Other Indo-European languages:
French
1,301,443
French Creole
753,990
Italian
723,632
Portuguese
673,566
German
1,083,637
Yiddish
160,968
Other West
290,461
Germanic
languages
Scandinavian
135,025
languages
Spoke a language
other than English
at home1 (Percent)
English-speaking ability2 (Percent)
X
Spoke English
“very well”
X
Spoke English
“well”
X
Spoke English “not
well”
X
Spoke English “not
at all”
X
X
X
X
X
X
100.0
58.2
19.4
15.4
7.0
62.0
56.3
17.8
16.9
9.0
2.1
1.2
1.2
1.1
1.8
0.3
0.5
79.6
56.8
73.5
61.8
82.9
68.4
77.6
13.9
23.8
17.1
20.8
13.1
17.7
17.9
5.9
15.2
8.6
13.5
3.6
10.2
3.7
0.6
4.3
0.8
3.9
0.3
3.7
0.8
0.2
90.6
7.7
1.6
0.1
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STUDENT CASE STUDY—BURLEY
Greek
304,928
Russian
905,843
Polish
607,531
Serbo-Croatian
269,624
Other Slavic
336,062
languages
Armenian
246,915
Persian
407,586
Gujarati
358,422
Hindi
648,983
Urdu
373,851
Other Indic
815,345
languages
Other Indo449,600
European
languages
Asian and Pacific Island languages:
Chinese
2,882,497
Japanese
436,110
Korean
1,141,277
Mon-Khmer,
212,505
Cambodian
Hmong
211,227
Thai
163,251
Laotian
140,866
Vietnamese
1,419,539
Other Asian
855,303
languages
Tagalog
1,594,413
Other Pacific
428,476
Island languages
Other languages:
Navajo
169,369
Other Native
195,407
American
languages
Hungarian
93,102
Arabic
951,699
Hebrew
216,343
African languages
884,660
All other
153,777
languages
0.5
1.5
1.0
0.4
0.6
75.3
52.3
60.0
61.7
62.1
15.5
25.6
23.4
21.9
22.8
7.8
16.8
13.8
13.6
11.9
1.4
5.3
2.8
2.9
3.3
0.4
0.7
0.6
1.1
0.6
1.3
53.8
62.7
63.8
77.0
70.0
60.6
22.2
21.9
20.2
16.3
19.3
23.7
16.5
12.0
12.2
5.3
9.2
10.9
7.6
3.4
3.8
1.4
1.5
4.9
0.7
65.1
21.5
9.9
3.4
4.8
0.7
1.9
0.4
44.3
57.5
44.5
47.1
26.1
27.4
27.0
23.4
19.9
13.9
24.4
22.9
9.7
1.2
4.0
6.6
0.3
0.3
0.2
2.3
1.4
56.7
43.4
50.9
39.8
69.3
22.2
34.8
22.1
27.1
19.6
14.9
18.9
22.7
25.8
8.4
6.2
2.8
4.3
7.3
2.7
2.6
0.7
67.2
61.6
25.6
25.7
6.7
11.7
0.5
1.1
0.3
0.3
78.8
85.4
14.2
11.4
4.8
2.9
2.2
0.3
0.2
1.6
0.4
1.5
0.3
71.0
63.3
84.7
68.1
56.3
21.1
21.7
11.9
21.1
19.7
7.3
11.9
2.9
8.6
14.8
0.7
3.1
0.5
2.1
9.3
X Not applicable.
1 The percentage in this column is calculated as the number of speakers of the specific language divided by the total number of those who spoke a language other than
English at home (60,577,020).
2 The percentages for these columns are calculated as the number of those who spoke English “very well,” “well,” “not well,” or “not at all” for a particular language
divided by the total number of those who spoke that language.
Note: Margins of error for all estimates can be found in the Appendix Table 1 <www.census.gov/hhes/socdemo/language/data/acs/Table1.xls>.For more information on
the ACS, see <www.census.gov/acs/www/>.
Source: US Census Bureau, 2011 American Community Survey
Question Five: In all, 60,577,020 people five years and older spoke a language other than
English at home. What is the percentage of the population five years and older who spoke a
language other than English at home?
Question Six: The table indicates that 77.6 percent of people five years and older who spoke a
language other than English at home report speaking English “well” or “very well.” How many
people does that represent?
Question Seven: How many people five years and older who spoke a language other than
English at home report not being able to speak English well or at all?
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STUDENT CASE STUDY—BURLEY
Question Eight: Starting with the highest number of speakers, what are the seven most
frequent languages spoken in the home?
Question Nine: In a paragraph, summarize why it is important to understand these numbers
concerning how well one speaks English and why it is important to consider the results by age
group.Now let’s further break down the statistics of who does and does not speak English by
the characteristics of the speakers. First, however, we need to understand how people learn
language, both our first language and, for some, additional languages. Everyone knows their
first language quite well by age six. We can carry on a conversation with our friends and with
adults, we can tell stories, jokes, and even lies, and we understand what people around us are
saying. Six year olds do not have very large vocabularies, but it is obvious what language they
are speaking within seconds of listening to them talk.
Learning a second language may be different. If one learns two languages simultaneously from
birth, there may be some delay in learning both, but those differences disappear and the child
is fully competent in both languages about the same time as a monolingual child is proficient in
one language—about age six (Fierro-Cobas and Chan 2001). However, the age at which a child
starts to learn a new language is critically important (DeKeyser 2000). Children learn a new
language rather easily when young, acquiring a native or near-native accent and speaking with
relative ease. As we age though, that ability begins to decline. Many students who begin to
learn a language in high school know the difficulty they have pronouncing words correctly and
being able to speak well—even after four or more years of study. This is likely due, in part, to
the amount of time devoted to studying a language. However, there is also another factor,
called the Critical Period Hypothesis, which states that due to the loss of the brain’s plasticity as
we age, we lose the ability to easily learn a language like we did as children. After puberty,
learning a second (or third) language becomes much more difficult.
Table 2 below shows the breakdown by age for Spanish speakers and speakers of other
languages reporting how well they speak English.
Table 2.
Language Spoken at Home by English-Speaking Ability by Selected Demographic and Social Characteristics for the
Population Five Years and Over: 2011
(For information on confidentiality protection, sampling error, nonsampling error, and definitions, see www.census.gov/acs/www/)
Characteristics
Total
Age
5 to 14 years
15 to 19 years
20 to 39 years
40 to 59 years
Population
Five years and
over
(Number)
Spoke a
language
other
than
English at
home
(Percent)
Spoke a language other than English at home
Population
Five years and
over
(Number)
Spoke Spanish
Spoke English
“very well”
(Percent)
291,524,091
20.8
37,579,787
56.3
Spoke
English
less than
“very
well”
(Percent)
43.7
41,131,310
21,822,474
83,350,155
85,944,236
21.8
22.3
25.6
19.5
6,451,625
3,412,795
13,853,503
9,795,839
76.2
82.7
55.3
42.9
23.8
17.3
44.7
57.1
Spoke a language other than Spanish
Population 5
Spoke
Spoke
years and over
English
English less
(Number)
“very
than “very
well”
well”
(Percent)
(Percent)
22,997,233
61.4
38.6
2,535,007
1,449,462
7,450,076
6,980,244
77.6
80.6
68.9
53.9
22.4
19.4
31.1
46.1
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STUDENT CASE STUDY—BURLEY
60 years and
over
Poverty Status
Below the
poverty level
At or above
poverty level
59,275,916
14.6
4,066,025
38.7
61.3
4,582,444
45.3
54.7
43,341,948
29.6
9,377,171
49.3
50.7
3,468,021
49.7
50.3
240,663,391
19.3
27,482,262
58.5
41.5
19,057,584
63.2
36.8
Note: Margins of error for all estimates can be found in the Appendix Table 3 <www.census.gov/hhes/socdemo/language/data/acs/Table3.xls>.For more information on
the ACS, see <www.census.gov/acs/www/>.
Source: US Census Bureau, 2011 American Community Survey
Question Ten: How many total people age twenty and over who reported speaking a language
other than English at home said they did not speak English very well?
Question Eleven: In a paragraph, describe the patterns for age and poverty status shown in
Table 2.
Question Twelve: Explain any factors you think might affect why the population from Question
Ten (people age 20 and over) do not speak English very well.
Are current immigrants less inclined to speak English than immigrants of the past?
One of the arguments for official English put forth by ProEnglish in their statement on English
and immigration (2014a) is that even though we have never had such a policy in our history, we
need one now because immigrants are less likely to learn English. One perception of the
problem worsening is that there are more people in America now than in the past who do not
speak English or who do not speak it well. Consider the data below:
Languages Spoken at Home for the Population Five Years and Over: 1980, 1990, 2000, and 2010
(For information on confidentiality protection, sampling error, nonsampling error, and definitions, see www.census.gov/acs/www/)
Characteristics
Population 5 years
and over
Spoke only English at
home
Spoke a language
other than English at
home1
Spanish or Spanish
Creole
French (incl.Patois,
Cajun, Creole)
Italian
Portuguese or
Portuguese Creole
German
Yiddish
Greek
Russian
Polish
Serbo-Croatian
Armenian
Persian
Chinese
Japanese
Korean
1980
1990
2000
2010
210,247,455
230,445,777
262,375,152
289,215,746
Percentage change
1980–2010
37.6
187,187,415
198,600,798
215,423,557
229,673,150
22.7
23,060,040
31,844,979
46,951,595
59,542,596
158.2
11,116,194
17,345,064
28,101,052
36,995,602
232.8
1,550,751
1,930,404
2,097,206
2,069,352
33.4
1,618,344
351,875
1,308,648
430,610
1,008,370
564,630
725,223
688,326
–55.2
95.6
1,586,593
315,953
401,443
173,226
820,647
150,255
100,634
106,992
630,806
336,318
266,280
1,547,987
213,064
388,260
241,798
723,483
70,964
149,694
201,865
1,319,462
427,657
626,478
1,383,442
178,945
365,436
706,242
667,414
233,865
202,708
312,085
2,022,143
477,997
894,063
1,067,651
154,763
307,178
854,955
608,333
284,077
240,402
381,408
2,808,692
443,497
1,137,325
–32.7
–51.0
–23.5
393.5
–25.9
89.1
138.9
256.5
345.3
31.9
327.1
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STUDENT CASE STUDY—BURLEY
Vietnamese
Tagalog
197,588
474,150
507,069
843,251
1,009,627
1,224,241
1,381,488
1,573,720
599.2
231.9
The languages highlighted in this table are the languages where data were available for the four time periods: 1980, 1990, 2000, and 2010.
The total does not match the sum of the 17 languages listed in this table because the total includes all the other languages that are not highlighted here.
Note: Margins of error for all estimates can be found in the Appendix Table 2 <www.census.gov/hhes/socdemo/language/data/acs/Table2.xls>.For more information on
the ACS, see <www.census.gov/acs/www/>.
Source: U.S.Census Bureau, 1980 and 1990 Census, Census 2000, and the 2010 American Community Survey.
1
2
We can see that the number of people who speak a language at home other than English has
increased by 158.2 percent over a thirty-year period, but this chart does not tell us whether
these people also speak English and if so, how well they speak English.
Question Thirteen: Calculate the percentages for the years 1980, 1990, 2000, and 2010 of the
number of people who spoke a language other than English at home. While the numbers of
speakers have increased each decade, has the percentage of speakers overall increased?
Question Fourteen: Now consider data from the 1970 US Census Bureau. According to Dennis
Baron (1990) in his book, The English-only Question, 17 percent of Americans claimed to speak
a language other than English at home in 1970 (p. 3). Does this statistic change how we might
characterize the claim that more immigrants currently do not speak English than before?
Question Fifteen: These data tell us how many people speak a language other than English in
the home, and how well these individuals speak English. Thinking about these two types of
evidence, discuss whether immigrants are indeed not speaking English more so today and if so,
why this would be considered a problem.
Would an official English law be at odds with any of the rights protected by the Constitution?
Proponents of official English are not advocating that English is the only language that
Americans can use. They believe that other languages can be spoken at home, learned at
school, and used in other areas of public life. Rather, they advocate that only English could be
used in government business. McAlpin (2014), writing for ProEnglish states, “Making English the
official language would have the practical effect of stipulating that while government could act
in other languages, for its actions to be legally binding and authoritative, they would have to be
communicated in the English language” (para. 51).
In court cases, official English laws have been struck down for violating freedom of speech and
other rights that would be limited if one cannot understand the language “necessary to ensure
the fair and effective delivery of government services” (McAlpin 2014).
Take a look at some of the rights of Americans shown in this list compiled by Frank Gemkow
(2014): http://www.tep-online.info/laku/usa/rights.htm and answer the following question.
Question Sixteen: From the rights listed in Gemkow (2014), choose two that you believe could
be violated by declaring English as the official language and explain how such a law would
violate these rights. If you cannot find any, choose two rights and explain what
accommodations would have to be made for a US citizen who does not speak English.
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STUDENT CASE STUDY—BURLEY
What are the financial costs of conducting government business in languages other than
English?
If some US citizens do not speak or read English, and all government documents are in English,
then some people would not be able to effectively conduct any business with the government
without translators or written translations into other languages. This issue was recognized in
2000 when President Clinton signed Executive Order 13166, which stipulated that “Federal
agencies…examine the services they provide, identify any need for services to those with
limited English proficiency (LEP), and develop and implement a system to provide those services
so LEP persons can have meaningful access to them” (LEP 2013). The costs of this order were
addressed in the LEP Guidance document, which stated that while costs were a consideration in
“already strained program budgets,” all federal agencies had to find the means to adequately
address the needs of limited English speakers (Department of Justice 2002). One way federal
agencies have reduced costs is by sharing translation work. For example, the National Virtual
Translation Center (NVTC) works with many federal agencies on an as-needed basis rather than
each agency hiring local translation services, which would likely be more costly (US Government
Accountability Office 2010).
ProEnglish responded to Executive Order 13166 in an appeal to overturn it, but so far, efforts to
do so have failed. One of the main arguments official English proponents make is that the cost
of providing translation services is too expensive. Please read the summation of the arguments
against Executive Order 13166 here: "Repealing Executive Order 13166" (ProEnglish 2014c).
Cost issues are addressed in Number Two.
At this point, other kinds of questions become germane to the question of cost. If English is
official, does the government have an obligation to make sure its citizens are proficient in that
language? If the answer to that question is “no,” then the costs of having people who cannot
speak or read English well enough or not at all have to be calculated as the cost to society. For
example, one would not earn a high school degree without proficient English skills. According to
the US Census Bureau (2012), a high school dropout earned an average of $20,241 annually,
and that included those who speak English natively. Young adults without a diploma were twice
as likely to live in poverty than those with a diploma (National Center for Educational Statistics
2012). In general, dropouts cost taxpayers an average of $292,000 over their lifetimes through
support programs for these dropouts and their families (Sum et al. 2009).
If the answer to whether or not government is obligated to help its citizens learn English is
“yes,” then there would be a cost associated with teaching English to speakers of other
languages. The K–12 public schools would likely be tasked with the job, which would mean
deciding on the best kind of program to accomplish English proficiency, hiring qualified
teachers, and providing the materials necessary. Adult learners would need another kind of
institution, such as a community literacy program. These, too, would have to be funded in order
to provide teachers and materials.
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STUDENT CASE STUDY—BURLEY
Question Seventeen: There are financial costs associated with making English the official
language of the United States and with maintaining the status quo. Overall, which do you think
would cost more monetarily and why?
Question Eighteen: Of all the issues in this case—unity, diversity, citizens’ rights, cultural
advantages, bilingual advantages, financial concerns, educational concerns, and identity—do
you think some (or even one) are more important than others to consider? Why?
Question Nineteen: In the final analysis, do you think English should become the official
language of the United States? Explain.
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Baron, D. 1990. The English-Only Question: An Official Language for Americans? New Haven, CT:
Yale University Press.
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Bilingualism: Psycholinguistic Approaches, edited by J. Kroll and A. De Groot, 417–32. New York:
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STUDENT CASE STUDY—BURLEY
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STUDENT CASE STUDY—BURLEY
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STUDENT CASE STUDY—BURLEY
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About the Author
Lynn Burley is an associate professor of linguistics in the Department of Writing at the
University of Central Arkansas (UCA) in Conway, AR. She earned her BA in English and her MA in
English (Rhetoric and Composition) at the University of Akron, and her PhD in English Linguistics
at Purdue University. She joined the faculty at UCA in 1998 in order to build a linguistics
program as part of the BA in Writing. After establishing a minor in Linguistics in 2002 and the BA
in Linguistics in 2010, she continued to expand the linguistics offerings into other programs
including the MA in English, the MA in Advanced Studies in Teaching and Learning, and the MFA
in Creative Writing. She is currently working on establishing a minor in Teaching English to
Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL).
Professor Burley served as UCA’s first director of assessment before returning to fulltime
teaching in 2012. A past president of the Faculty Senate, chair of the Faculty Handbook
Committee, current president of the local chapter of the American Association of University
Professors, and member of many other professional and university committees, Professor
Burley was awarded the Public Service Award from UCA in 2013. She teaches courses in
phonology, semantics, educational linguistics, grammatical structures, and the First-Year
Seminar in Linguistics, which was the impetus for this case study. Her lifetime goal is to
incorporate more linguistics into K–12 teacher education.
16
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