This paper eschews any claim at being value-free, or to what has rightly been called ‘a spurious neutrality’ (Phillipson & Skutnabb-Kangas 2002: 150); scholars’ inevitable biases must be declared. My own position towards the policies of the recently and variously named –– but hardly ‘new’ in attitude –– ‘English Only’ movement is a censorious one: I believe them to be bigoted, unethical, and potentially dangerous – not just for the ‘minority’ languages they endanger, but ultimately for the very social fabric they profess to protect. The assorted movements’ names are largely self-explanatory: with minor distinctions in agendas, they aim at passing a constitutional amendment establishing English as the one official language of the USA. They want the full assimilation of immigrants and the systematically maintained dormancy of any institutionally-fostered form of bilingualism (read: monolingualism/ culturalism is normal, and best) – all in the name of the linguistic-cultural ‘unity’ of the nation. Their rhetoric spans the full continuum: from the extreme xenophobic to its carefully ‘sensible’, albeit disconcerting, opposite. It is admittedly trite to claim that the complexity of one’s topic would require book-length treatment rather than a short paper, or a 20 minute talk!, but this subject is surely a case in point. Ideally, one should: (1) trace the movement’s historical/ socio-political origins and development – not as straightforwardly linear as some scholars would have it but undoubtedly influenced by the rhetoric of the 1823 Monroe Doctrine and of ‘manifest destiny’; (2) probe the psychological fears at the root of their convictions, the adroit exploitation of which is not an indifferent key to their popular ‘success’; (3) study the interplay of their assumptions with the diachronic see-saw fate of authentically bilingual programs in the US, victims of the wiles of attentively-honed technocratic discourse (Miller 2002), but also, (4) problematize what might otherwise be taken as a monolithic deceptive discursive practice. That is to say – pace Trudgill’s essentially valid critique (1998) of Honey (1997), and the fact that these pressure groups have clearly caught on to its topical currency – one should attempt to candidly face the discourse of ‘empowerment’ – and its enemies – and to reject what at times appears to be a part of our postmodern conceptual framework: i.e., a simplistic quasi-enthusiasm for the ‘fragmented identity of the displaced’ (Cf. Hoffman 1997: 44-45) . And none of these aspects of the question should be considered mutually exclusive. Neither must one fail to contextualize the discourses of US ‘English Only’ within the framework of Global English and its myriad, intricate issues, including that of language rights: e.g., a de jure obligation of the US towards members of its language minorities is long overdue. Parallel issues concerning the EU brand of ‘English Only’ (Phillipson 2003) are also to be kept in mind. So then, in the time allotted me, I would attempt to at least adequately point up these issues and their critical interconnectedness. Select references: Bayley P. & Miller D.R. (1993) Texts and Contexts of the American Dream: a social semiotic study of political language, Bologna: Pitagora. Crawford J. (ed.) (1992) Language loyalties: A source book on the Official English Controversy, Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Crawford J. (2000) At war with diversity: US language policy in an age of anxiety, Clevedon: Multilingual Matters. Crawford J. (1992), Hold your tongue: Bilingualism and the politics of ‘English only’, Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley. Fodde L. (2002) Race, Ethnicity and Dialects: Language Policy and Ethnic Minorites in the United States, Milan: FrancoAngeli. Graddol D. (2006) English Next. Why Global English may mean the end of ‘English as a Foreign Language’, The British Council. Hoffman E. (1997) “The New Nomads”, in A. Aciman (ed.) Letters of Transit. Reflections on exile, identity, language and loss, New York: The New Press, 35-64. Lippi-Green R. (1997) English with an accent: Language, ideology, and discrimination in the United States, London: Routledge. Miller D.R. (2002) “Probing ways of meaning in ‘technocratic’ discourse”, in G. Cortese & P. Riley (eds), Domain-specific English: Textual Practices Across Communities and Classrooms, Linguistic Insights Series, Bern: Peter Lang, 175-203. Miller D.R. (2006) “Packaging the Presidency: Electoral texts in the cultural context of the American Dream”, in N. Vasta (ed.), Forms of Promotion: Texts, Contexts and Cultures, Bologna, Pàtron Editore, 167-201. Phillipson R. (2003) English Only Europe. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Phillipson R. & Skutnabb-Kangas T. (1999) “Englishization as One Dimension of Globalization”, in D. Graddol & U. Meinhoff (eds), English in a Changing World, ) Oxford: Catchline, 19-36. Skutnabb-Kangas T. & Phillipson R. (1994) Linguistic Human Rights: Overcoming Linguistic Discrimination, Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter Trudgill P. (1998) Review of Honey’s Language is Power. The Story of Standard English and its Enemies (1997), Journal of Sociolinguistics 2,3, 457-461.

“The ‘English Only’ movement in the USA: its attitudes, politics and discursive practices…and the sundry questions it raises”

MILLER, DONNA ROSE
2013

Abstract

This paper eschews any claim at being value-free, or to what has rightly been called ‘a spurious neutrality’ (Phillipson & Skutnabb-Kangas 2002: 150); scholars’ inevitable biases must be declared. My own position towards the policies of the recently and variously named –– but hardly ‘new’ in attitude –– ‘English Only’ movement is a censorious one: I believe them to be bigoted, unethical, and potentially dangerous – not just for the ‘minority’ languages they endanger, but ultimately for the very social fabric they profess to protect. The assorted movements’ names are largely self-explanatory: with minor distinctions in agendas, they aim at passing a constitutional amendment establishing English as the one official language of the USA. They want the full assimilation of immigrants and the systematically maintained dormancy of any institutionally-fostered form of bilingualism (read: monolingualism/ culturalism is normal, and best) – all in the name of the linguistic-cultural ‘unity’ of the nation. Their rhetoric spans the full continuum: from the extreme xenophobic to its carefully ‘sensible’, albeit disconcerting, opposite. It is admittedly trite to claim that the complexity of one’s topic would require book-length treatment rather than a short paper, or a 20 minute talk!, but this subject is surely a case in point. Ideally, one should: (1) trace the movement’s historical/ socio-political origins and development – not as straightforwardly linear as some scholars would have it but undoubtedly influenced by the rhetoric of the 1823 Monroe Doctrine and of ‘manifest destiny’; (2) probe the psychological fears at the root of their convictions, the adroit exploitation of which is not an indifferent key to their popular ‘success’; (3) study the interplay of their assumptions with the diachronic see-saw fate of authentically bilingual programs in the US, victims of the wiles of attentively-honed technocratic discourse (Miller 2002), but also, (4) problematize what might otherwise be taken as a monolithic deceptive discursive practice. That is to say – pace Trudgill’s essentially valid critique (1998) of Honey (1997), and the fact that these pressure groups have clearly caught on to its topical currency – one should attempt to candidly face the discourse of ‘empowerment’ – and its enemies – and to reject what at times appears to be a part of our postmodern conceptual framework: i.e., a simplistic quasi-enthusiasm for the ‘fragmented identity of the displaced’ (Cf. Hoffman 1997: 44-45) . And none of these aspects of the question should be considered mutually exclusive. Neither must one fail to contextualize the discourses of US ‘English Only’ within the framework of Global English and its myriad, intricate issues, including that of language rights: e.g., a de jure obligation of the US towards members of its language minorities is long overdue. Parallel issues concerning the EU brand of ‘English Only’ (Phillipson 2003) are also to be kept in mind. So then, in the time allotted me, I would attempt to at least adequately point up these issues and their critical interconnectedness. Select references: Bayley P. & Miller D.R. (1993) Texts and Contexts of the American Dream: a social semiotic study of political language, Bologna: Pitagora. Crawford J. (ed.) (1992) Language loyalties: A source book on the Official English Controversy, Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Crawford J. (2000) At war with diversity: US language policy in an age of anxiety, Clevedon: Multilingual Matters. Crawford J. (1992), Hold your tongue: Bilingualism and the politics of ‘English only’, Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley. Fodde L. (2002) Race, Ethnicity and Dialects: Language Policy and Ethnic Minorites in the United States, Milan: FrancoAngeli. Graddol D. (2006) English Next. Why Global English may mean the end of ‘English as a Foreign Language’, The British Council. Hoffman E. (1997) “The New Nomads”, in A. Aciman (ed.) Letters of Transit. Reflections on exile, identity, language and loss, New York: The New Press, 35-64. Lippi-Green R. (1997) English with an accent: Language, ideology, and discrimination in the United States, London: Routledge. Miller D.R. (2002) “Probing ways of meaning in ‘technocratic’ discourse”, in G. Cortese & P. Riley (eds), Domain-specific English: Textual Practices Across Communities and Classrooms, Linguistic Insights Series, Bern: Peter Lang, 175-203. Miller D.R. (2006) “Packaging the Presidency: Electoral texts in the cultural context of the American Dream”, in N. Vasta (ed.), Forms of Promotion: Texts, Contexts and Cultures, Bologna, Pàtron Editore, 167-201. Phillipson R. (2003) English Only Europe. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Phillipson R. & Skutnabb-Kangas T. (1999) “Englishization as One Dimension of Globalization”, in D. Graddol & U. Meinhoff (eds), English in a Changing World, ) Oxford: Catchline, 19-36. Skutnabb-Kangas T. & Phillipson R. (1994) Linguistic Human Rights: Overcoming Linguistic Discrimination, Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter Trudgill P. (1998) Review of Honey’s Language is Power. The Story of Standard English and its Enemies (1997), Journal of Sociolinguistics 2,3, 457-461.
American English(es): linguistic and socio-cultural perspectives
62
88
Miller, D R
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