Crawford Bilingual Able to Understand Essay

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CLEVEDON, ENG.: MULTILINGUAL MATTERS, 2000. 143 PP. $49.95, $15.95 (PAPER)
In At War with Diversity: U.S. Language Policy in an Age of Anxiety, James Crawford tackles a complex question regarding the numerous challenges associated with U.S. language policy: “How should Americans respond to language diversity?” (p. 2). The six essays in this book provide a provocative perspective on this question, enabling readers to develop a rich, historically grounded, and nuanced understanding of language diversity and language policy in the United States.

The book begins with a comprehensive overview of the history of the English-Only Movement in the United States. Included in this first chapter, “Anatomy of the English-Only Movement,” are historical sketches that Crawford uses to examine the influence of English-Only campaigns on Pennsylvanian Germans, Louisianans, Californios, Native Americans, Puerto Ricans, Native Hawaiians, and European immigrants. These examples from U.S. history, Crawford argues, illustrate how language restrictionism has never occurred “independently of the material forces that govern U.S. history” (p. 10). Crawford further contends that “for the privileged and powerful, and for those who share their worldview” (p. 28), language conflicts are often triggered by a fear of change in the “structures of power, class, and ethnicity” (p. 27), and not by concerns regarding language use per se.

Chapter two, “Boom to Bust: Official English in the 1990s,” examines more recent trends in the push for English-Only legislation. Crawford outlines the progression of the movement from “fringe-group status to mainstream acceptance to political marginality” (p. 32). He examines the role of US English, an organization whose stated goals included the promotion of ethnic harmony and national unity, in fostering the marginalization of U.S. immigrants. Crawford also critiques the use of the “empowerment argument” (p. 39) to support English-only legislation, referring to the idea that the elimination of federally funded bilingual services would enable or empower immigrants to improve their English skills and make them more “productive members of society” (p. 39), which, for some legislative proponents, reflected a vision of economic advancement and civic participation for immigrants in the United States. Although a national English-only law was never successfully passed, Crawford observes that the legislative push brought to light strong ideological differences between supporters and proponents of the bill regarding the need for a “common language” and the value of linguistic diversity and cultural tolerance.

Chapter three, “Endangered Native American Languages: What Is to Be Done, and Why?” directs the reader’s attention to the situation of language extinction in the United States, specifically referring to the disappearance of Native American languages. This chapter is a particularly important one for readers with little background in language shift, referring to permanent changes in language use that result in the survival of some languages and the disappearance of others. Crawford advocates for the preservation of Native American languages, asserting that “we should care about preventing the extinction of languages because of the human costs to those most directly affected. . . . Along with the accompanying loss of culture, language loss can destroy a sense of self-worth” (p. 63).

Crawford expands his discussion of the struggles associated with language maintenance and loss in chapter four, “Seven Hypotheses on Language Loss,” examining the language maintenance struggles facing four Native American communities in particular: Navajo, Hualapai, Pasqua Yaqui, and the Mississippi Band of Choctaw. The author discusses his own hypotheses about the causes of language shift and possible efforts to achieve language preservation. These hypotheses highlight both factors within language…