LINGUIST List 6.832

Thu 22 Jun 1995

Sum: Banned German, "English Only"

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  1. , Sum: Banned German, "English Only"

Message 1: Sum: Banned German, "English Only"

Date: Mon, 19 Jun 1995 01:22:50 Sum: Banned German, "English Only"
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Subject: Sum: Banned German, "English Only"

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A few weeks ago I posted part of some correspondence I received about the
banning of German in Iowa during WWI. Because the responses brought up the
matter of "English Only" or "Official English" (depending on one's leanings)
I posted a further query as to whether anyone knew of any recently proposed
law in the US that would out and out ban languages other than English. First
I'll thank everybody, then I'll summarize the German ban, then official

Thanks to: (STEVE SEEGMILLER) (Frank Anshen) (Kiel T. Christianson) (Deborah Yeager) (Bob Wachal) (Susan Burt) (MICHEL PLATT) (Keith Walters)
CNELSONVM.CC.PURDUE.EDU (Dr. Christian K. Nelson) (R. Nieuweboer) (COOPER GORDON B) (Anthea Fallen-Bailey)


The original quote I posted ran thus:

)Here in Iowa where I grew up most household language was a)foreign language
the early part of this century. The public
)schools were English of course. My uncle went to a local
)"German" school which was a parochial school. It was
)necessary because all the German Lutheran Church liturgy and)Bibles were in
Luther's German so the Plattdeutsch speaking)people had to go to school to
learn it. World War I ended that.)The Iowa governor issued a proclamation
banning the)speaking of any foreign language in public places. Phone
)operators were)instructed to pull the plug on anynon English)telephone
conversations. Party line patrons were to hold the)telephone receiver up to
the mouth piece so the resulting)whistling would interfere with non English
speech. All modern)language instruction was dropped from school curriculums.
A)blow from which the school system never really recovered.
)Newspapers published reports of people arrested on the
)street for speaking German. This was a real hardship on older)immigrants.
 All German language newspapers were
)suppressed. Our rural county had German papers at one time.
)In fact the editor of one was once elected the county
)treasurer. This day and age it is all somewhat embarrassing. I)stumbled on
to the fact that the State of Iowa organized what)amounted to a secret
police agency. The state formed an
)agency whose purpose was to investigate acts of disloyalty.
)They were given the power to levy fines and imprison people
)for the duration of the war without benefit of trial. America's)active
participation was relatively short lived so the agency)was not around long.
It would make an interesting research
)paper sometime if any records still exist.

I got many confirmations that this actually happened, and not only in Iowa.


Philip E. Webber(1993). Kolonie-Deutsch: Life and Language in
Amana. Ames: Iowa State University Press.

Birgit Mertens (1994). Vom (Nieder-)Deutschen zum
Englischen: Untersuchungen zur sprachlichen Assimilation einer laendlichen
Gemeinde im mittleren Westen Amerikas. Heidelberg: Universitaets-verlag C.

Heinz Kloss's _The American Bilingual Tradition_.

Baron, Denis. 1990. **The English-only question: an official language for
Americans?** New Haven, Connecticut: Yale University Press.

Kloss, Heinz. 1966. "German-American language maintenance efforts".
**Language loyalty in the United States**, edited by J.A. Fishman, 206-252.
 London, England: Mouton & Co.

Liebowicz, Joseph. 1985. "Official English: another Americanization
program?" **Language loyalties: a source book on the official English
controversy**, edited by James Crawford, 101-111. Chicago: University Press
of Chicago.

Deborah Yeager:

)Bad news: it definitely happened. Most of the laws passed
)against the use and instruction of German were at the very
)end of the war and so came into force _between_ world wars. >Iowa was not
the only state. I can't answer to the behavior of
)telephone operators and people on partylines, but I do know
)that teaching German was banned not only in the schools,
)but also on school property after hours, where church groups
)had often held classes.

Rogier Nieuweboer:

)I cannot answer your question on a ban on German in Iowa,
)but in fact, in 1914 the Canadian authorities issued such a
)ban on German (which was used in Mennonite and many other
)schools). This was the reason why many Mennonites emigrated >to Mexico.

Anthea Fallen-Bailey:

)I wrote my undergraduate honors thesis on the subject of
)language histories in the U.S. I include below a pertinent
)paragraph from that work:

) The most severe blow to German language and culture
)maintenance in the U.S. came with World War I when...
)"hyphenated Americans" were forced to chose between their
)ethnicity and the U.S. nation, despite the fact that the
)majority of German-Americans favored neutrality (Kloss
)1966). The German language in the U.S. has never since
)recovered. From 1917, when the U.S. joined the war, German
)was banned in private and public schools, in meetings, in
) religious services and even over the telephone (Baron 1990:
)111). National organizations disbanded, German music was
)neither playe nor sold, and restaurants changed the names of
)German dishes: "sauerkraut" became "Liberty cabbage";
)"German fried potatoes" became "American fries"; and
)"hamburger" became "Salisbury steak" (ibid: 109). In short,
)"German was specifically targeted as an enemy language to be >rooted out".
 Between 1918 and 1923 many states passed
)anti-German legislations; two states -- Nebraska and
)Illinois -- passed English-only constitutional amendments in >1920 and 1923
respectively (ibid.: 109). By 1923 thirty-four
)states had passed English-only laws relating to the language
)of instruction in schools (Leibowicz 1985). Ohio, which had
)previously supported German instruction in schools, passed a
)law in 1919 rejecting German altogether.

)A footnote here: the Ohio 1919 law was eventually struck
)down by the U.S. Supreme Court via the 1923 case of Meyer v.
)Nebraska (very famous case in language circles).


Some of the things discussed brought up some interesting questions, which
I'll treat after a couple of quotations.

Steve Seegmiller:

)It may be an unfortunate or misleading choice of terms, but
)"English Only" doesn't mean banning other languages entirely;
)it means requiring the use of English exclusively for official
)purposes. That presumably includes governmental functions,
)education, and so forth, but not non-official uses.

)At last count, at least seventeen states had adopted such
)English Only laws, and several more are in the works. Not one
)of them proposes banning other languages.

Susan Burt:

)Karen L. Adams and Daniel T. Brink (eds) in their *
)Perspectives on Official English* (mouton. 1990) have an
)appendix of texts of various language legislation.

)The legislature of Arizona attempted an amendment to the
)state constitution which included:

)This State and all political subdivisions of this State shall
)act in English and in no other language.

)No entity to which this Article applies shall make or enforce
)a law, order, decree or policy which requires the use of a
)language other than English.

)No govermental document shall be valid, effective or
)enforceable unless it is in the English language.

)There follows a list of circumstances in which the use of
)other languages is exlicitly allowed.

)I think the Arizona law was considered one of the most
)restrictive, and I think it was somehow found invalid--or
)maybe it didn't pass in the first place--I forget. anyway,
)even it did not "ban" other languages in private contexts.

Christian K. Nelson referred to some research on voters' opinions on official
English laws, and while I find his conclusions hyperbolic, I think his
comments are nonetheless worth reading:

)[I] was reminded of research reported in a course I took with
)an anthropological linguist (now at San Diego?): Katherine
)Woolard. She mentioned that in the California "official
)English" push not only were many Hispanics in favor of the
)proposed legislation, but so were many supposed liberals in
)the San Francisco area. She was doing an analysis of
)discourse in which such liberals justified their positions,
)showing that they were based on hidden assumptions that
)actually ran counter to their claimed liberal beliefs. All this
)points up the fact that oppressed people, with the help of
)their well-meaning supporters, often participate in their own
)oppression. Indeed, historical examples indicate that such is
)true even to the point that oppressed groups help organize
)extermination of their own members for oppressing groups.
)So, the results of the polls you cite are not so transparently

A respondent or two drew conclusions from the oft-mentioned hysterical tone
of the fundraising materials put out by the "official English" movement. My
own thoughts on that, as sent to one respondent:

On Tue, 13 Jun 1995 wrote:

) I'm convinced there is a certain style to fundraising letters
)that crosses the political spectrum, especially since a lot of
)organizations certainly have their letters written by direct
)marketing agencies that are probably not affiliated with any
)particular persuasion. I get such letters from political
) campaigns on the left, right, and in between, including the
)Democratic party, and I see absolutely the same nauseatingly >hysterical,
hateful style in all of them, as if they were
)written by the same hand. (Which they sometimes may
) have been.) In one letter, the boogie man is "liberals who
)want to take away your freedom," in another it's "advocates
)for the rich who want to make you homeless," in another it's
)immigrants, in a third it's jingoists. The common
) denominator is always the angry, hateful tone they're
)written in. Having worked at an ad agency, I know that the
)people in them know their targets, and just how to caress
)them or zing their fillings to get them to act. It has to be an
)established fundraising technique.

This whole issue seems to me to be a mix of radical hysteria on both sides,
mixed with legitimate questions, which neither side appears willing to
address. Since linguists, to my experience, are generally terrific at
preaching linguistic tolerance, but don't often deal with pragmatic questions
that don't affect them personally, I'll annoy you all with a few questions
brought up by non-linguists I know. These people are neither radical
conservatives, nor bothered by the use of other languages or dialects in
their presence.

1. How come in US regions where other foreign language groups outnumber
Hispanics, are safety warnings and federal signage are still only posted in
Spanish and English?

2. A manager, who had previously not minded foreign languages being spoken
in the office, is suddenly noticing a lot of discord, backbiting and
insubordination among the employees. These are hard enough to quell when
everyone is speaking English, but it's even harder for this manager to
monitor what's happening, because it's all going on in a foreign language.
 Does the manager A.) sign up for a beginning language course, B.) quit the
job and give it to someone fluent in the other language, C.) recruit some of
the employees as "spies", D.) mandate English, E.) other_____? If the
manager mandates English, will it qualify as linguistic intolerance in this

3. Why should a child who speaks Black American English be accommodated in
the classroom by court order, while an Appalachian kid gets forced to learn
(later changed to "gets the benefit of learning") the standard dialect (i.e.,
in addition to his or her own)?

4. "The typists in our company are so incompetent at standard English that
even a simple business letter takes them at five drafts, and one whole day,
to get into acceptable form. It always comes out in their dialect, and it's
much easier for everybody to do their own typing. Why can't they give these
people English tests?"

These are linguistic AND political questions to these people, to which I have
no ready answers. What do other linguists say?

James Kirchner
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