Louisiana school district may require English-only valedictory addresses

Dennis Baron debaron at illinois.edu
Wed Jul 2 03:33:35 UTC 2008

There's another new post on the Web of Language:

Louisiana school district may require English-only valedictory  
addresses -- why not call them bye-bye speeches instead, to avoid all  
foreign-language entanglements?

After co-valedictorians Hue and Cindy Vo flavored their recent  
Ellender High School graduation talks with a pinch of Vietnamese, the  
president of the Terrebonne Parish School Board, who wants English- 
only school ceremonies, proposed banning foreign languages in future  
graduation speeches.


some people in Terrebonne were unhappy to hear an immigrant language  
spoken at a high school graduation.  The name Terrebonne – which means  
‘good earth’ in French – reflects an earlier time when French was the  
most widely-spoken language, after Choctaw and Spanish, in the  
multilingual Louisiana Territory.  Initially there were few  
anglophones in Louisiana, also called Orléans, one reason many  
Americans were skeptical about the Louisiana Purchase.  It’s said that  
at one point Thomas Jefferson contemplated sending 3,000 English- 
speaking settlers to the region to make the acquisition more palatable  
to the rest of the country.


So adamant had Louisiana’s English-only crowd become by mid-century  
that its secessionist constitution of 1861 ordered that all laws be  
printed in the language of the United States Constitution, forgetting  
in the zeal to promote English that the federal Constitution had been  
dumped when Louisiana joined the Confederacy.


But reports of the death of Louisiana French were premature.  The  
state constitutional convention of 1864 once again rejected proposals  
to protect French, but the convention’s opening prayers were recited  
in French and English, and its proceedings were published in both  
languages.  In addition, schools in predominantly French-speaking  
areas were allowed to continue using French as a language of  

n the other hand, that 1864 constitution also contained a provision  
that should sound familiar to today’s supporters of official English,  
who incorporate it in their “defense of English” legislation: no  
public official in Louisiana could be required to speak any language  
other than English.

But while the official language of Louisiana remains English, and the  
most widely-spoken language in the state is Spanish, not French, the  
Terrebonne school board proposal for English-only graduations might  
actually conflict with the state’s most recent constitution: “The  
right of the people to preserve, foster, and promote their respective  
historic linguistic and cultural origins is recognized” (Constitution  
of 1974, Art. XII, sec. iv)...

read the rest of this story on the controversial Louisiana graduation,  
which even got a notice on Fox News, on the Web of Language


Dennis Baron
Professor of English and Linguistics
Department of English
University of Illinois
608 S. Wright St.
Urbana, IL 61801

office: 217-244-0568
fax: 217-333-4321


read the Web of Language:

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