Language and Politics in the United States and Canada: Myths and Realities

By Thomas Ricento; Barbara Burnaby | Go to book overview

2
The Politics of Language in Canada and the United States: Explaining the Differences

Ronald Schmidt Sr. California State University, Long Beach

Language policy conflict has reemerged in the United States in recent years with unexpected force and volatility, centering on the three policy issues of bilingual education, linguistic access to voting and other civil and political rights, and the proposal to make English the sole official language of the nation. Uneasy with this seemingly new political terrain, many Americans have looked northward to Canada for insight and example in trying to understand the implications and possible consequences of their own language policy conflict. U.S. proponents of bilingual education and linguistic access measures, for example, have often found inspiration in the pluralistic language policies of Canada's federal government.

American opponents of linguistic pluralism, on the other hand, have found in Canada's political conflicts over language policy clear lessons on what must be avoided in the United States. In 1976, for example, an op-ed piece in The New York Times stated: "The disconcerting strength gathered by separatism in Canada contains a lesson for the United States and its approach to bilingual education" ( "Bilingual Danger" 1976, p. 46). Although supporting "transitional" bilingual education, The Times used the Canadian example to oppose alleged efforts by some educators and Latino political activists to maintain permanent "Spanish-speaking enclaves" because this would lead

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