Book Reviews -- Hold Your Tongue: Bilingualism and the Politics of "English Only" by James Crawford

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JAMES CRAWFORD. Hold Your Tongue: Bilingualism and the Politics of "English Only." Reading, Mass: Addison-Wesley Publishing Company, 1992. 324 pages. $24.95.

In 1981, for the first time in the history of America, Congress was asked to consider a proposal to designate English as the official language of the land. The bill was introduced by California Senator S.I. Hayakawa, a semanticist by profession and author of a college textbook, Language in Thought and Action. Hayakawa, himself a Canadian immigrant of Japanese ancestry, felt that bilingual education in the public schools and accommodations for immigrant citizens such as bilingual ballots had gone too far. He argued that the unifying force provided by the English language was eroding and that as a nation we would split apart along language lines.

After his retirement from the Sen. ate in 1983, Hayakawa, with Dr. John Tanton, an ophthalmologist from Petoskey, Michigan, co-founded an organization named U.S. English. Their goals were to lobby in Washington for an "English only" constitutional amendment and to influence state governments for similar English-language legislation.

James Crawford, a Washington journalist, has vividly captured in his book, Hold Your Tongue, the disturbing history and destructive politics behind the English-only movement. He tells the stories of cities and counties in California, Florida, Massachusetts, and other states where activists have tried--and many have succeeded--in getting legislation passed outlawing the use of any language but English.

Begun on a shoestring, in less than a decade U.S. English claimed nearly a half million dues-paying members and was spending $6 million a year to preserve the status of English and to restrict the use of other languages. As a measure of its influence, by 1988 no fewer than forty-eight states had considered English-only legislation, and by 1990 a total of seventeen states had adopted such measures.

According to Crawford, the intensity of this activity is a bigoted response to the growing and changing nature of immigration to the United States. As late as the 1950s, the top five countries of origin for U. …