Blog on Wiley on Kloss

Harold F. Schiffman haroldfs at
Fri Apr 6 14:15:19 UTC 2007

Wiley on Kloss

Heinz Kloss revisited: National Socialist ideologue or champion of
language-minority rights? - by T.G. Wiley in International Journal of the
Sociology of Language, 2002, 154, 83-97

I came across this interesting article from T.G. Wiley. It's about the
work of Heinz Kloss a prominent figure on the history of bilingualism and
language policy in the U.S. You may have heard about Kloss's major work,
The American Bilingual Tradition (1977, 1998). Heinz Kloss is one of the
major scholars on American minority language policy, language rights, and
language maintenance. His contribution includes a detailed account of
language laws, territorial language policies, and other language-related
primary data. Kloss's scholarly work spans from the early 1930s to 1987
(ended posthumously).

He was an interesting figure. He was born and raised in Germany then in
the early 1930s he traveled to the U.S. and studied the language practices
of German American immigrants. Later he expanded his scope of interest to
other immigrant groups and language communities in the U.S. Though the
importance of his scholarly work is unquestionable due to the wealth of
primary data he collected, his theoretical perspective and ideological
standing has been extensively critiqued. This critique is typically based
on two grounds: Kloss's typology of multilingualism and his ideological
perspective. In his article Wiley comments on the critique of Schiffman
and Hutton. Schiffman analyzed Kloss's typology and found that though
Kloss did identify a number of linguistic variables relevant for
language-policy, his perspective lacked predicative value. That is, Kloss
failed to explain whether multilingualism is the outcome of the language
policy, or if it develops contrary or independently of the policy
(Schiffman, 1998).

Hutton analyzed the work of Kloss under National Socialism (the Nazi
era). Hutton argues that it is important to consider a scholar's
ideological orientation since it greatly affects his/her alleged
neutrality of scholarship (Wiley 2002). Hutton found that Kloss was
affiliated with the German Foreign Institute during the Nazi era. In fact,
Kloss provided information to the Third Reich on the number and language
practices of German Americans in 1936-37. These were the years when the
German Reich was interested in reuniting its people so they needed such
information about Germans living outside the Reich. Though later in his
life Kloss distanced himself from the National Socialist period, Hutton
argues that his early ideological perspectives can be traced in his later

What is striking in Kloss's work is his distinction between racial
minority and language minority status. Kloss argued that discrimination
against language minorities was typically racial, not linguistic while
today it is widely understood that linguistic discrimination is connected
to race, class, and other social discrimination (Wiley, 2002). That is,
linguistic discrimination is never just about the language. In the same
line of thought, Kloss argued that language minority groups in the U.S.
generally enjoyed tolerance-oriented policies toward language use and
maintenance, and restrictive policies were only isolated instances.
Clearly, Kloss focused on German immigrants, therefore he did not consider
other people who had to face language and racial discrimination. Also,
Kloss held the individual not the state - accountable for heritage
language maintenance:  the non-English ethnic groups in the United States
were Anglicized not because of nationality laws which were unfavorable
toward their languages but in spite of nationality laws which were
relatively favorable to them (as cited in Wiley, 2002). He did not blame
the state.

Maybe Kloss was right when he said that he was a complicated young man
with a complicated fate, in a complicated time. I tend to believe that he
remained the same in his later years. Regardless his past and his
ideological orientation, as Wiley puts it, Kloss's was an outstanding
scholar because of the wealth of information he provided on the U.S.
bilingual tradition. I highly recommend Wileys article. It is a very
interesting reading and it gives a better understanding of how the current
view of the U.S. bilingual tradition evolved throughout the past decades.


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