Immigration, security and the public debate on US language policy : A critical discourse analysis of language attitudes in the United States of America

Abstract: The narrative of the United States is of a "nation of immigrants" in which the language shift patterns of earlier ethnolinguistic groups have tended towards linguistic assimilation through English. In recent years, however, changes in the demographic landscape and language maintenance by non-English speaking immigrants, particularly Hispanics, have been perceived as threats and have led to calls for an official English language policy. This thesis aims to contribute to the study of language policy making from a societal security perspective as expressed in attitudes regarding language and identity originating in the daily interaction between language groups. The focus is on the role of language and American identity in relation to immigration. The study takes an interdisciplinary approach combining language policy studies, security theory, and critical discourse analysis. The material consists of articles collected from four newspapers, namely USA Today, The New York Times, Los Angeles Times, and San Francisco Chronicle between April 2006 and December 2007. Two discourse types are evident from the analysis namely Loyalty and Efficiency. The former is mainly marked by concerns of national identity and contains speech acts of security related to language shift, choice and English for unity. Immigrants are represented as dehumanised, and harmful. Immigration is given as sovereignty-related, racial, and as war. The discourse type of Efficiency is mainly instrumental and contains speech acts of security related to cost, provision of services, health and safety, and social mobility. Immigrants are further represented as a labour resource. These discourse types reflect how the construction of the linguistic 'we' is expected to be maintained. Loyalty is triggered by arguments that the collective identity is threatened and is itself used in reproducing the collective 'we' through hegemonic expressions of monolingualism in the public space and semi-public space. The denigration of immigrants is used as a tool for enhancing societal security through solidarity and as a possible justification for the denial of minority rights. Also, although language acquisition patterns still follow the historical trend of language shift, factors indicating cultural separateness such as the appearance of speech communities or the use of minority languages in the public space and semi-public space have led to manifestations of intolerance. Examples of discrimination and prejudice towards minority groups indicate that the perception of worth of a shared language differs from the actual worth of dominant language acquisition for integration purposes. The study further indicates that the efficient working of the free market by using minority languages to sell services or buy labour is perceived as conflicting with nation-building notions since it may create separately functioning sub-communities with a new cultural capital recognised as legitimate competence. The discourse types mainly represent securitising moves constructing existential threats. The perception of threat and ideas of national belonging are primarily based on a zero-sum notion favouring monolingualism. Further, the identity of the immigrant individual is seen as dynamic and adaptable to assimilationist measures whereas the identity of the state and its members are perceived as static. Also, the study shows that debates concerning language status are linked to extra-linguistic matters. To conclude, policy makers in the US need to consider the relationship between four factors, namely societal security based on collective identity, individual/human security, human rights, and a changing linguistic demography, for proposed language intervention measures to be successful.

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