Book Notice: Language Policy and Identity Politics in the United States

Harold F. Schiffman haroldfs at
Sat Jun 4 16:52:41 UTC 2005

>>From Temple University Press:

Language Policy and Identity Politics in the United States
Ronald Schmidt, Sr.

"Best Book Award" from the American Political Science Association Section
on Race, Ethnicity and Politics for the category of "Public Policies,
Legal and Social Analysis of Racial and Ethnic Politics", 2001

"Finally, a study that is at one and the same time understandable and
scholarly, factual and ethical, pluralist and integrationist, and
sensitive to the often disregarded overlap between class, race and
ethnicity, a study that sympathetically examines all sides of the American
language policy issue and finds that these sides can and should come
together productively, so that both pluribus and unum will obtain."
Joshua A. Fishman, Ph.D., editor of Language and Ethnic Identity, Oxford
University Press

Well over thirty million people in the United States speak a primary
language other than English. Nearly twenty million of them speak Spanish.
And these numbers are growing. Critics of immigration and multiculturalism
argue that recent government language policies such as bilingual
education, non-English election materials, and social service and
workplace "language rights" threaten the national character of the United
States. Proponents of bilingualism, on the other hand, maintain that, far
from being a threat, these language policies and programs provide an
opportunity to right old wrongs and make the United States a more
democratic society.

This book lays out the two approaches to language policylinguistic
assimilation and linguistic pluralismin clear and accessible terms. Filled
with examples and narratives, it provides a readable overview of the U.S.
"culture wars" and explains why the conflict has just now emerged as a
major issue in the United States.

Professor Schmidt examines bilingual education in the public schools,
"linguistic access" rights to public services, and the designation of
English as the United States' "official" language. He illuminates the
conflict by describing the comparative, theoretical, and social contexts
for the debate. The source of the disagreement, he maintains, is not a
disagreement over language per se but over identity and the consequences
of identity for individuals, ethnic groups, and the country as a whole.
Who are "the American people"? Are we one national group into which
newcomers must assimilate? Or are we composed of many cultural
communities, each of which is a unique but integral part of the national
fabric? This fundamental point is what underlies the specific disputes
over language policy. This way of looking at identity politics, as
Professor Schmidt shows, calls into question the dichotomy between
"material interest" politics and "symbolic" politics in relation to group

Not limited to describing the nature and context of the language debate,
Language Policy and Identity Politics in the United States reaches the
conclusion that a policy of linguistic pluralism, coupled with an
immigrant settlement policy and egalitarian economic reforms, will best
meet the aims of justice and the common good. Only by attacking both the
symbolic and material effects of racialization will the United States be
able to attain the goals of social equality and national harmony.


Read an excerpt from Chapter 1 (pdf).


"In Language Policy and Identity Politics in the United States, Schmidt
provides an innovative approach to considering how issues of education,
linguistic access to political and civil rights, and English as the
official language are centrally tied to understandings of national
Luis Fraga, Associate Professor of Political Science, Stanford University

"This book is a major contribution to an understanding of language
conflicts. It shows in a very insightful way that, beyond the
controversies over specific issues and policies, such conflicts involve
confrontations between socio-political values and diagnoses of the
implications of ethno-linguistic diversity for the social order. Schmidt's
analysis also makes sense of an enigma: Why is language a source of
conflict in a society in which the national language is clearly not
Raymond Breton, Professor Emeritus, University of Toronto

"Professor Schmidt's thought-provoking and insightful book offers a
significant contribution to our critical understanding of language
concerns and identity politics, not simply as primordial attachments, but
as important initiatives towards the redefinition and reconstruction of
society itself. In the process, he compels our respectful recognition of
the varied and valuable ways of being human in the world."
Dr. Maulana Karenga, Professor and Chair, Department of Black Studies,
California State University, Long Beach and author of Odu Ifa: The Ethical

"Moving beyond analysis to specific plans, [Schmidt] provides us with our
national agenda for the new millennium. He enables us to see the dawning
of identity politics as a high priority in our new political understanding
of the United States."
David F. Marshall, Professor of English, Linguistics, and Peace Studies,
University of North Dakota

"[A] comprehensive examination of American language policy debates."
Journal of Politics

"This comprehensive and carefully researched book fills a void in the
literature in this area; it provides a balanced overview of the issues to
identity politics. Insightful and challenging, it constitutes a
significant contribution to the language policy debate."
Journal of International Migration and Integration


Introduction: A Politics of Language in the United States?

Part I: The Issues and the Context
1. Language Policies in Conflict: An Overview
2. Making Sense of Language Policy Conflict
3. The Social Foundations of U.S. Language Politics

Part II: The Arguments
4. Historical Perspectives on U.S. Identity Politics and Ethnolinguistic
5. Language Policy and Equality: The Search for Justice
6. Language Policy and National Unity: The Search for the Common Good

Part III: Critique and Reform
7. Flaws at Every Turn: A Critique of Assimilationist, Pluralist, and
Confederationist Alternatives
8. Pluralistic Integration: Toward Greater Justice and a More Common Good


About the Author(s)
 Ronald Schmidt, Sr. is Professor of Political Science at California State

 2005 Temple University. All Rights Reserved. This page:

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