Chapter 3: Language Policies in the U.S.A
By James Crawford

Mixed Feelings about Diversity
Language Policies Elsewhere
American Exceptionalism
Linguistic Laissez-Faire
Language Ideologies, National Myths
Bilingual Double Standard
Questions of Power
Assimilationism vs. Pluralism
Multicultural Anxieties
School Policies and Politics
‘Orientations’ in Language Planning
Individual Rights, Group Rights

Strictly speaking, the United States has never had a language policy, consciously planned and national in scope. It has had language policies – ad hoc responses to immediate needs or political pressures – often contradictory and inadequate to cope with changing times. The absence of a national consensus in this area means, among other things, that local decisions on how to educate English learners are a continuing source of controversy.

Nevertheless, as the country grows more diverse, government cannot avoid language policymaking in various forms. Deciding when to provide essential services in languages other than English, how to define and combat language-based discrimination, and where to find the language skills deemed critical to national security are some obvious examples. Yet each of these questions is approached in isolation. At the federal level, for example, no agency or official is responsible for coordinating decisions, resources, or research on the wide array of language issues that challenge and sometimes divide Americans.

So confusion persists about some very basic questions: Should linguistic diversity be treated primarily as a threat to be contained, if not eliminated, through restrictive legislation? Or as an asset to be conserved and exploited in pursuit of national goals? Should it be seen as a reality that the country must actively accommodate to ensure civil and political rights for newcomers? Or as a source of recurrent but minor complications that can be addressed on a piecemeal basis? Over the past generation, federal and state policies have vacillated erratically among these alternatives.

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