"Babel" in Schools
Life After Prop. 227
CLICK HERE FOR CENSUS 2000 INFORMATION
Demographic Change and Language
"Today there are more than 32 million Americans who are not proficient in English."
– Rep. William Lipinski (D-Ill.)
"Consider this: 40 million Americans will be non-English-languageEnglish Only advocates seem intent on confusing two groups: U.S. residents who don't speak English and those who speak languages other than English. These populations are not the same. The 1990 Census found that most minority language speakers are bilingual – 94.2 percent of them speak English with varying levels of proficiency.
proficient by the year 2000."
– Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.)
Both populations, minority language speakers and limited English speakers, are growing rapidly because of immigration and birthrates higher than the U.S. average. During the 1980s the increase in foreign-born Americans was 41 percent – roughly the same as the increase in those who reported difficulty with English (37 percent) and those who spoke other languages at home (38 percent). Meanwhile, the overall population increased by less than 10 percent (see Table I).
Only 1.8 million persons – 8/10 of one percent
of U.S. residents – spoke no English at all in 1990. It is hard to see how
this group could total 40 million by the year 2000, unless half the population
of Mexico were suddenly to relocate North of the Border. Perhaps that's what
the Congressmen secretly fear.
*Includes all persons who report speaking Englishless than "very well."
Sources: 1980 Census of Population, vol. 1, chap. D, pt. 1 (PC80-1-D1-A); U.S. Census Bureau, "Language Spoken at Home and Ability to Speak English for United States, Regions, and States: 1990" (1990 CPH-L-133).
"For the first 180 years of our Nation, we were bound together by a common language. Immigrants came to this country knowing they had to learn English. Twenty-five years ago we went away from this."
– Rep. Pete King (R-N.Y.)
"Tragically, many immigrants these days refuse to learn English! They never become productive members of society. They remain stuck in a linguistic and economic ghetto, many living off welfare and costing working Americans millions of tax dollars every year."Turn-of-the-century Jews, Italians, and Slavs also encountered such invidious comparisons – in 1911 a federal Immigration Commission accused them of failing to learn English as rapidly as the Germans, Irish, and Scandinavians who came before them. In fact, immigrants' rates of Anglicization have increased throughout U.S. history. Today they are higher than ever before.
– English First fundraising letter
In the 1890 census there were 4.5 times as
many non-English speakers, proportionally speaking, than in the 1990 census
(despite its superior ability to count such groups). A century ago there
were sizable enclaves in the Southwest, Louisiana, the upper Midwest, and
New England, where colonial, immigrant, and indigenous languages predominated
– far larger than their counterparts today. (See Table II.)
*Inability to speak English,
persons aged 10years and above.
Sources: U.S. Department
of the Interior, CensusOffice, Compendium
The rate of linguistic assimilation is clearly accelerating, a phenomenon that can be seen even in the relatively brief span of the 1980s. Unfortunately, a wide variety of language questions were asked in censuses between 1900 and 1970; thus comparable data are unavailable for those years. It should also be noted that the latest language figures have significant limitations – especially the reliance on self-reports, which are inevitably subjective.
Fortunately, identical language questions were asked in 1980 and 1990; so language trends among immigrants can be plotted, as shown in Table III. From these data three things are clear:
*Includes all foreign-born who speak only English at home or speak English "very well."
Source: Dorothy Waggoner, "Are Current Home Speakers of Non-English Languages Learning English?" Numbers and Needs 5, no. 6 (Nov. 1995): 1, 3. (This newsletter on language and demography is available from Box G1H/B, 3900 Watson Place, N.W., Washington, DC 20016.)
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