Immigration and the policy of language

Term Paper (Advanced seminar), 2008

11 Pages, Grade: 1,0


1. Introduction

“What do you call a person who speaks two languages?“


“And one who knows only one?“

„American.“ (unknown)[1]

The above joke, which source is unknown, is a stereotypical joke, not a rascist one. It mirrors a common perception about U.S.-born citizens all over the world. These stereotypes do not come out of nowhere, since the USA have a long history of immigration and the problems involved, e.g. language diversity, cultural differences and the forming of a melting pot.

Therefore the topic of immgration and the policy of language shall be analyzed in this term paper. First of all I want to give an overview why the proficiency of English was and still is important for immigrants in order to live at least a decent life or become very succesful within the US society.

Next I want to give a summary of the history of language policy and politics in the United States to show the commencements and recent developments of these politics. In the end I want to discuss the key issues of the battle over language, which cause great controversies all over the USA.

2. Why is the proficiency of English important for immigrants?

Throughout US immigration history language difference has presented itself as a problem in many ways. First of all there has always been the problem for each individual immigrant of gaining mastery of English in order to successfully cope with everyday situations. It has been proven necessary “to negotiating ordinary, daily encounters with others on the strees, or while shopping, or in government offices, and useful to acieving succes in school and at work“ (Gerber&Kraut 2005, 259).

For example employers often believed that production efficiency and safety were directly correlated with the ability to communicate with workers in English. Therefore if a migrant wanted to climb the social ladder, he/she had to aquire proficiency in English. Especially many first generation immigrants have struggled to learn and to become proficient in English due to the fact that they are foreign-born. Thus if a immigrant has not been capable to improve his English skills to a certain extent, he has to stick to lower-paying work “that does not offer much chance for improvement, and work in smaller businesses, often owned by membes of the same ethnic group, not requiring English-language skills“ (Gerber&Kraut 2005, 260). On the other hand the use of English presents the second generation, which has grown up in the US and attented US schools, with the chance of greater oppurtunity. But it can also cause a rift between generations since the original language is often still spoken at home as the following statistic illustrates:

Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten

Richard Rodriguez[2] has pointed out these problems in a very descirptive way in his book Hunger of Memory: The Education of Richard Rodriguez. He shows the complexities of his life from his youth to adulthood. Rodriguez speaks of the distance he felt in the US society as a child due to the fact that he could not speak English. He found socialization difficult because he could not fully speak the language of his community or his society. Therefore, he remained a quiet and reserved child for quite some time. But with the help of his Catholic school teachers and the support of his parents he began to speak English more fluently.


[1] The original source of this joke is not documented. It is quoted by Portes and Rumbaut (1996:195) and Görlach (1986).

[2] “Richard Rodriguez (born 31 July 1944), Mexican-American writer, associate editor with the Pacific News Service in San Francisco, an essayist for The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer, and a contributing editor for Harper's magazine and the Los Angeles Times. In 1981 Richard Rodriguez burst onto the publishing scene with his autobiography, Hunger of Memory: The Education of Richard Rodriguez . Its success can be attributed to the author's antagonism to bilingual education and affirmative action and the media's attention to these issues. Beyond its notoriety, however, the book is significant because Rodriguez reveals himself with frankness and sensitivity“(cf.

Excerpt out of 11 pages


Immigration and the policy of language
University of Göttingen  (Seminar für Englische Philologie)
History and Current Issues of Immigration in the United States
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ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
File size
481 KB
Immigraion, Language
Quote paper
Nicholas Haase (Author), 2008, Immigration and the policy of language, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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