Educational Policy and Bilingualism
This country has vacillated in its stance with respect to languages other than English throughout its history. The federal Constitution makes no mention of language, allowing linguistic differences to play out in a variety of ways. In times of relative peace and prosperity, the country has been accepting of other languages. Into the early 1900s, for example, German-speaking populations in this country had their own schools and newspapers. When the economy is poor, or when immigration increases to the point that people feel that their own culture is threatened, attitudes toward languages other than English become more hostile. From time to time, prominent voices, such as Benjamin Franklin and Theodore Roosevelt, have spoken out against the use of other languages. The two world wars had a dramatic effect on general attitudes toward foreign languages, to the extent that during World War I, Americans were urged to eat liberty cabbage rather than the German sauerkraut, and Salisbury steak rather than hamburger. Enrollments in foreign-language instruction in high schools dropped precipitously after World War I, not just in German, but in all languages (Daniels 1990b, p. 9). We will return to the question of public and official positions on languages other than English, as they have in recent years once again surfaced as matters of heated public debate.
We might first consider what shape multilingualism takes in this country. As we have said before, it does not take the form of languages competing for dominance. Rather, English is the generally accepted language of public discourse, while other languages exist alongside it among segments of the population. In some cases, they are brought with them by immigrant populations. In other cases, such as Spanish in the Southwest and Native American languages, they were spoken here before English was and were brought into the fold of English involuntarily. People in this country who speak a language other than English are often bilingual, with English as their second language. Immigrant populations, who have moved here voluntarily, tend to pass through a bilingual stage and become monolingual in English by the third generation (Daniels 1990b, p. 3). Those populations for whom English has been imposed as a dominant language are more resistant to assimilation, and bilingualism tends to persist (Paulston 1981, p. 476).
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