Academic journal article Political Research Quarterly

Official-English and the States: Influences on Declaring English the Offical Language in the United States

Academic journal article Political Research Quarterly

Official-English and the States: Influences on Declaring English the Offical Language in the United States

Article excerpt

In this study, I seek to answer the question of why some states choose to declare English the official state language while others do not. Using an event history model, I show that both the proportion of a state's population that is foreign-born and whether the state allows for direct initiatives interact to influence the adoption of language laws. Specifically, states with many immigrants and no initiatives have almost no chance of declaring English the official language while a similar state with direct initiatives is more likely to do so. Implications for ethnic politics, direct democracy, and the future of language policy are discussed.

Language conflicts have come and gone throughout American history, but language has never been as salient an issue in the United States for as long a time as in the past 20 years. To date, 26 states have declared English their official language. Of these 26 declarations, 21 have been since 1980. Most have been made through statutes or amendments to state constitutions though some were passed by voter initiatives. At least twelve of the remaining 24 states have at least debated making English official during the past decade, leaving-at most-- twelve states that have not publicly considered official-English legislation in recent history. Many cities, counties, and towns have also passed various types of language policies, including ordinances that regulate the languages of signs in stores. On public opinion surveys, large majorities consistently support the idea of making English the official language and providing government services, such as election materials, only in English.

This flurry of legislative activity and the overwhelming support it receives among the public have spawned a variety of research projects aimed at understanding why people support restrictive language policies and what prompts some states to adopt them. The purpose of this article is to add to this research agenda by using an event history model to examine why some states have chosen to make English the official language while others have not. In particular, I build upon the work of Raymond Tatalovich (1995), which examines the adoption of language legislation at the state level, in two ways. First, I incorporate as many states as possible into the analysis, including those that have not seen any statewide official-English activity, like Delaware and Connecticut, along with those that have seen more language conflict, like California and Arizona. Second, my analysis focuses on the powerful relationship between two state-level characteristics in shaping policymaking in this area, a relationship Tatalovich describes but does not test empirically This relationship is the interplay between the proportion of the state's population that is foreign-born and whether or not the state allows for direct initiatives.

The main conclusion from this study is that the percentage of a state's population that is foreign-born affects whether it will adopt an official-English law. The nature of this effect, however, is different in states that allow for direct initiatives in the policymaking process than in those that do not. States that allow for direct initiatives and have a high proportion of immigrants see pushes for language laws, while states that do not allow for direct initiatives and have high proportions of foreign-born residents experience resistance to such policies. Conversely, states that lack initiatives and have low proportions of foreign-born residents are more likely to declare English the official language than states with direct initiatives and few immigrants.

HYPOTHESES

Five hypotheses, all of which appear at some point in Tatalovich's study, either explicitly or implicitly, are tested simultaneously in this analysis. The first hypothesis is that the partisan make-up of state governments will affect whether English becomes the official language. Analyses of public opinion data have shown that partisan divisions on language and immigration policies are common, though the influence of such divisions on attitudes is somewhat erratic (see, for example, Citrin, Reingold, and Green 1990; Citrin et al. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.