Babble on, you English-only guys
By O. Ricardo Pimentel
Sept. 21, 2002 12:00:00
The scare piece from U.S. English Inc. was sadly predictable.
" . . . If we don't act quickly, America could fast become a nation divided by a
babble of confusing, competing
The mailing came to the home of a colleague, who has a non-Spanish surname
but who is nonetheless Latina.
(Note to U.S. English: She won't be taking you up on your generous offer to
accept her contribution and she won't be signing a petition to make English the
"official language of the United States.")
Now the other side of the story. A credible case can be made that the "babble"
is really coming from U.S. English.
A new report by author James Crawford for the Educational Policy Studies
Laboratory at Arizona State University says the numbers point to rapid language
assimilation by immigrants as more the rule than the multilingual morass
predicted by U.S. English.
He comes to his conclusion relying on the same census data upon which U.S.
English relied. Crawford, who writes often on the nation's language wars, did a
"Close scrutiny of the new data suggests that the Anglicization in this country
has never been faster," he writes. (You can find his paper at
In other words, the same data that prompts U.S. English folks to predict the
multicultural apocalypse really says that "fluent bilinguals" - folks who report
speaking English at least "very well" - are more than half of minority language
The ability to monger on the issue of Spanish speakers lies in the way a key
census question was worded.
"Does this p erson (age 5 or older) speak a language other than English at home?
(If so) What is this language? How well does this person speak English - very
well, well, not well, (or) not at all?"
Nowhere in there are definitions for what constitutes speaking a language other
than English. While doing your Spanish homework? Giving instructions to the maid
or gardener? To speak to grandma when she visits? All kinda fuzzy.
But consider the question posed in Canada's 1996 census: "Can this person speak
English or French well enough to carry on a conversation? What language(s) other
than English or French can this person speak well enough to carry on a
conversation? What language does this person speak most often at home? What is
the language that this person first learned at home in childhood and still
Much more precise. The result of our question, Crawford says, is to exaggerate
the amount of Spanish spoken in the home, this due to ethnic identification and
pride. Frankly, we say we speak more Spanish than we really do.
As an example, Crawford cites a Navajo nation study in 1993 that found barely 32
percent of reservation kindergartners proficient in the native language. Yet the
2000 census had 75 percent of residents saying Navajo was spoken in the home.
Something doesn't jibe here and the census figures are likely exaggerating the
amount of monolingual Spanish-speakers as well.
For instance, Maryland - Crawford's home - reported more than 11 people speaking
Spanish for every 10 folks who reported they were Hispanic.
In any case, Crawford's state-by-state analysis shows that, though the
language-minority population is indeed growing quickly, the number of people in
this group speaking English is growing nearly as fast.
For instance, in Arizona, the number of people who speak a language other than
English in the home grew 76 percent over the decade. But the number of people
who reported speaking English very well grew 62 percent.
This would indicate a level and speed of assimilation that should satisfy all
those out there complaining bitterly about the Mexicanization of this country,
the alleged reconquista. It's just not happening, folks.
The figures indicate more clearly, Crawford finds, that, if speaking English is
the standard, Latinos are assimilating.
The English-only people, it seems, are wasting both their angst and their
Reach Pimentel at firstname.lastname@example.org or (602) 444-8210. His
column appears Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays.