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Politics over Official Language in the United States


  • Saumyajit Ray

    (Saumyajit Ray is Lecturer in Journalism and Mass Communication at Kasturi Ram College of Higher Education, Guru Gobind Singh Indraprastha University, Delhi. E-mail: He is thankful to the anonymous referee for his/her helpful comments and suggestions on the previous version of the article.)


The founding fathers did not designate English—or any other language—as the official language of the United States (US). It would be moot to ask if they considered it necessary to lay down in law what existed in fact, or whether they desisted from granting official language status to English out of their respect for ‘language minorities’ already in the new republic. Attempts were made from the early days of the republic to standardize their English language in the US for both practical and lexicographic purposes. But no movement aimed at making English the official language of the US emerged till 1981. The ‘Official English’ (deridingly called English Only) movement has till date got twenty-seven states to adopt it as their official language. Its first national success came when the US House of Representatives passed H.R. 123 in 1996 declaring English as the official language. This success, though, was short-lived as the bill lapsed due to the Senate inaction. The second national success came when the Senate passed the English Language Amendment to the latest Immigration Reform Bill, designating English as America's ‘national language’. However, the Democratic Party's opposition to Official English and the Republican Party's reluctance to officially associate with Official English means that the movement has a long way to traverse.

Suggested Citation

  • Saumyajit Ray, 2007. "Politics over Official Language in the United States," International Studies, , vol. 44(3), pages 235-252, July.
  • Handle: RePEc:sae:intstu:v:44:y:2007:i:3:p:235-252

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