Language Policy in the USA and the European Union


American English vocabulary is widely influenced by the language of Native Americans. This is due to the association of migrants with Native American in the North American mainland and the Caribbean. Though some native words continued to be used in the American English vocabulary some words faded away.

The United States never had an uncompromisingly unstable linguistic history like other nations. The language of the United States has had distinctiveness and has been homogenous without major divisions of dialects like language of European Nations. In contrast European nations have changed their language as and when a state was formed. The admiration for linguistic diversity during the Seventeenth century made English language as a representative language of Amerindian and African speakers.

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The United States of America was highly multilingual than European Nations by the end of the Eighteenth century. However, World War I prompted policy makers to adopt a monolingual nation as it was feared that multilingualism may undermine patriotism. English speaking immigrants experienced a varied linguistic background when they settled down in America. Historians interpret that the cultural language background of America and the borrowings from native languages are used in the modern age also. The history of the language can be learned from a core, continuing and a transient perspective. The inclusion of new words from Caribbean into the American English language took place before the English mariners reached the United States. When English men reached America they found that the conversation was a combination of languages. This new English with the inclusion of words of American origin was nurtured on the ports of Caribbean, West Africa and Europe and on the decks of ships that sailed from there.

In the year 1600 there were no permanent residents in North America who spoke English. In 1700 there were two million and fifty thousand people from European and African origin. By 1780 nearly three million people spoke the English language. The formation of new cities facilitated linguistic variety and the end of the century witnessed the formation of language groups by Americans of European origin. New Jersey and New York was home to the Dutch and comprised 17% of the total migrants while one third of Pennsylvania constituted Germans. Swedish migrants were more in Delaware and accounted for almost nine percent of the total population. About thirty percent of Georgia housed migrants from Scotland and Ireland while French formed the largest group of immigrants from Europe accounting for about fifty three percent. Some institutions endorsed linguistic stability in larger areas. English speakers from Connecticut conquered Amsterdam and renamed it New York. Based on the origin and social class there was diversity even among the English speaking people. By the beginning of the Nineteenth century a new vision arose that an independent nation should have an independent language. It was extensively believed that there was an intense connection between language and people. American English varied across social groups and regions where it was spoken. There was a difference from register to register, features and frequencies of features. Therefore it was important to compare equivalent registers across dialects. The English only Movement received great attention during the middle of 1980s as several groups wanted to declare English as the official language of the country and eliminate bilingual programs and services. Most of the words brought to America by the English migrants still referred to the same meaning or closely related meaning on both sides of the Atlantic (Ferguson, Finegan, Heath, Rickford 2004). The United States never had a language policy that was deliberately planned or national in scope. The language policies of the United States were created for immediate needs or to meet political pressures which were often conflicting and insufficient to move according to the changing times. Even though the Government could avoid language policymaking, no federal agency was charged with organizing resources, decisions or investigation in this area. The US Government spends more than a billion dollars every year for the encouragement of various forms of language education with the main objective of replacing minority languages with English. The approach did not succeed in nurturing fluent bilingualism and as a result Americans with bilingual proficiencies are less in number. Bilingual is a decisive condition for national security and international trade. The need for bilingual proficiency commands efforts to develop and encourage original linguistic resources of the minority communities.

In the Nineteenth century, many rural areas and locations where communities of migrants concentrated, witnessed the mushrooming of minority language schools that taught German, French, Spanish, and other languages without the aid of government. Favoritism was also popular at those times. Unpopular minorities underwent troubles in California were victims of such harassments. As a national anxiety, bilingualism was treated with comprehensive immigration quotas during the 1920s. Until Sputnik, there was no comprehensive language policy and federal involvement in schooling was limited. In the 1960s racial limitations were removed from the US immigration law which invited a diverse flow of newcomers. Equal education opportunity became a national priority and concerted efforts were made to integrate minorities with the national main stream policies. The country’s multiculturalism was highlighted by empowering the long-discriminated minorities. Efforts were made to conserve and revitalize endangered languages. The situation was all the more complex for the US when compared to similar issues in rest of the world after the collapse of Soviet Union, the shrinking demography and the growth of information technologies. By the 1980s foreign born population was about forty percent in the United States. Out of this minority language speakers constituted around thirty eight percent and around thirty seven percent US residents had some difficulty with English language. The English Only reaction came into existence with significant social impact. The growing alternative to English only was English Plus, which acknowledge the importance of English and also advocated the development and preservation of minority languages reviving opportunities for cultural integration.

In June 1990, there was a campaign to end bilingual education in California. The campaign was lead by Ron Unz. If this campaign succeeded this would have proved catastrophic to several students who had less skills in the English language. This campaign continues to be independent from the English Only groups. The plan of Unz led campgain is stronger than any other anti-bilingual agitations over the years (Proposition 227: Anit – Bilingual education).

English Only activists’ believed that bilingualism is an effective method and they feared that bilingualism may weaken the sense of national identity. They believed that the Government would convey a wrong message to the immigrants by recognizing the minority languages. This would encourage the immigrants to live in the USA without learning English or complying with the American ways. The question about the effectiveness of bilingual education is still in argument. It is very difficult to design program evaluation studies that feature suitable comparison groups and random assignments of various subjects. Bilingualism is an important skill for the person and the country. According to a 1990 census most of the minority language speakers were bilingual and their levels of proficiency vary in spoken English and more than ninety four percent of them speak English. Since immigration and birth rates are higher than the US average, the rate of minority language speakers and limited English speakers are growing at great pace. The United States remains an underdeveloped country in spite of its increasing diversity, when it comes to language skills. Immigrants are bringing in other languages also at record rates. The native-born Americans still remain obstinately monolingual. Freedom from discrimination based on languages and also the freedom to learn and speak languages of one’s choice is the policy of English Plus. The minority group’s race, political power, religion, numbers and culture are the decisive factors for the diversity of the United States. The majority groups’ outlook on prosperity and stability was also analyzed. When immigration reached its highest levels in U.S history, twentieth century has witness more language minorities than twenty first century. With the change in the society driven by mass media, industrialization, infrastructure and migration and the secluded lifestyle, French speakers in Louisiana and north New England became Anglicized. Germans pre-dominated the areas of Middle West (Language Policy).

Language is not something that can be interlocked with some overarching theory of justice nor can it be subjected to compromise as easily as others. Therefore language policy should not be a matter of applying a theory but it should balance the demands of each other (BLATTBERG. 2006).

The European Union’s linguistic meeting is marked by member states with numerous ethnic, minority and immigrant languages. French is the generally used language within the European Union along with the United Kingdom in the Union; English is also becoming a more prominent language, pushing German to third place. French language has gained popularity by the inroads made by the English and is soliciting prominence for French. French is cited as a language ‘used in their particular area’ and the truth behind this statement is the fear of English hegemony. It is a reality that outside the EC institution, English is widely accepted, even as a second language in education and also in media, science, technology and business. Therefore the debate is still on whether the European Union can pursue the multilingual language policy or can invent a monolingual solution. There is no noticeable uniform language policy for the European Union. Most of the guidelines are evolved as a necessity to preserve the integration and very existence of the European Union. Generally the European Union favored a multilingual language policy. The European Parliament, which is considered as the voice of the people in European Union, also backs the multilingual language policy. Such a pluralist language policy needs noticeable participation of minority languages as well and the Union is engaged in ensuring this by infusing multilingualism in media, education and culture. The language policy in the European Union is three faceted: for institutional purposes, educational and cultural and for minority languages (Caviedes, 2003).

The European Union is a group of twenty seven Member States and it has twenty three official languages. The members joining the Union have the freedom to choose their official language. The diversity of customs, culture and beliefs were the principles on which the European Union was established. Languages played a key role in the Union. Compared to other continents has many language families, the European Union languages are divided into three families. The Indo-European, Finno-Ugric and Semitic are the three groups of languages that form the European Union languages. Linguistics became more noticeable and popular since people had much more contacts with the foreigners than early days. People are forced to speak languages other than their mother tongue due to the impulsive development of business in Europe’s integrated markets, tourism, globalization, and student exchanges. According to the European Union’s charter of Fundamental Rights adopted in the year 2000, the Union was to respect linguistic diversity. There was no discrimination on the basis of language and any discrimination was considered illegal. The openness towards the cultures of other countries’ and the respect for linguistic diversity was the aim of the European Union. This principle is applicable to the many regional and minority languages which also included the twenty three official languages of the European Union. Therefore diversity is famous as an asset in the European Union. The Treaty of Lisbon was signed in December 2007 by the Heads of State. This Treaty emphasized that the rich cultural and linguistic diversity should be respected. It also ensured that the cultural heritage of Europe is secured. The European Union gives all support to its citizens to learn various languages for both personal and specialized mobility. It also enhances the cross cultural contacts and mutual understanding. The European Union also promotes the regional and minority languages spoken by above fifty million people of the Member states which are not official languages of the Union. The ability to communicate more languages is considered a skill in Europe which enables the citizens for freedom to work or study in any other Member States of the European Union. Language teaching and learning are promoted in the programs for support of education and professional training. The European Union is unique in the world in its multilingualism. Europe leads the world in language technology. The European Commission has brought together language experts and Information and Communication Technologies specialists to focus their resources in linguistic development. The understanding of the cultural and linguistic diversity is an important factor for the diversity of a country. The Information and Communication Technologies promises to help enrich Europe’s cultural diversity. The advent of new language technologies has added value to the cultural heritage of Europe and this is now available to all irrespective of the location or language (A guide to languages in the European Union).

Many projects are funded to promote regional and minority languages. Materialization of English was recognized as the most widely-spoken language in Europe, but it was ensured that this does not, over time, lessen linguistic diversity within its borders. The European Union wanted every European to speak two languages in addition to their own on an ambitious goal that is at the core of Commission policy on language skills. According to the most recent survey figures on European language usage, twenty eight percent of Europeans claim to know two languages other than their own language. Multilingualism is considered an asset for Europe and it is a shared commitment that addressed languages from a wider angle of social uniformity and richness. The aim of this Communication was to integrate multilingualism into a series of European policies and actions. To help people appreciate the importance of language learning Twenty Six September of every year is celebrated as the European Day of Languages. The awareness about various languages spoken in Europe and learning languages all through one’s life was encouraged. This event also taught many creative ways to learn various languages. The Commission committed an Action Plan in the year Two Thousand and Three to encourage national, regional and local authorities to join it in supporting language learning and linguistic multiplicity (Linguistic Diversity – Policies 2008).

Many language boards were established during the past twenty years to promote minority and regional languages. It was clear that there would be great change if these organizations worked together. In October 2001, European Network of European languages were formed. The first meeting of the European Network of European Languages listed certain objectives that it would work hard to support the coordination between legislative and official agencies to promote minority languages. The association also aimed to find new opportunities for language promotion with the expansion of the EU. The association also aimed to develop and harmonize a vote for minority languages in the European region. In December 2003, the Network was successful in availing financial assistance from Action Plan for Language Learning and Linguistic Diversity which is under the auspices of European Commission. Language issues of concern to minorities and specific region throughout Europe was corrected by the grant funding of the Network. The Network also identified and supported the best practice in language planning (Background Network of European Language Planning Boards).

Jan Figél from Slovakia was appointed as Commissioner for the first time during the legislative period 2004 to 2009, whose responsibilities included the promotion of multilingualism. There were three main aims of the Commission in which it presented the New Framework Strategy for Multilingualism in November 2005. Later, the learning of new languages was encouraged and the linguistic diversity in society was endorsed. Citizens were given easier access to information in the European Union in their own languages and a multilingual economy was also promoted. Member states were also called upon to support the achievements of these aims by taking added measures. The Romanian, Leonard Orban was appointed as the first commissioner for Multilingualism as soon as Romania and Bulgaria made entry into the European Union. The improvement of the workers’ foreign language skills was one of the main responsibilities of the Commissioner (Mutke & Itzel 2007). In a multilingual continent like Europe the testing and assessment of language proficiency is a crucial component of language policies which aims to respect linguistic and cultural diversity (Languages of Europe 2008). The European Union believes that using the different languages spoken by its citizens is a major factor in ensuring greater articulacy, genuineness and competence. The Legislation adopted by the European Union should be made available to all the citizens of Europe irrespective of their mother tongue. Any petition or request can be given by the European citizen in an official language of his home country to the European Parliament. The reply was also given in the same language. This commitment of the European Union to multilingualism is unique in the world. It also helps the law making and administration more efficient (Mutke& Itzel 2007). Linguistic minorities have accorded special attention in international law. Issues of languages are directly related to citizenship, education and socialization. There is great pressure on institutions in the European Union to simplify and harmonize the range of services offered with in a particular group of languages. The United Nations never alienated the national minorities from the linguistic groups; the Council of Europe has established this division between national minorities and immigrant groups in a very unambiguous manner. The European Charter for Regional and Minority Languages seeks to establish minimum standards. The recent political concern is to complement Council of Europe and the European Union in these matters (Williams, 2002).


The primary purpose of language planning is to facilitate communication within the state. Language planning begins with creation of new forms and the modification of old ones. The European Union also has recognized that cultural measures are required to make the citizens aware of their European identity. There is no suggestion that all minority and regional languages should be made official languages but steps must be taken to strengthen cultural and linguistic traditions. A more effectual measure for the protection of minority languages is the Bureau for Lesser Used Languages with in the European Community itself. In the process of national identity creation, language has played a major role in determining its nature as any other component. Language is the most noticeable aspect of culture, and as such language planning. The European Union is a home to a vast array of native languages and numerous immigrant languages. New and tolerant European Union citizens will be capable of finding unity within their common diversities. The European Union’s optimism will be translated into success (Blattberg, 2006). Language technologies are essential to maintain their place in tomorrow’s globalized and interconnected world which also ensures that the culture, art and history of Europe are inextricably intertwined. The European Union recognizes that language and identity are closely connected. The culture of a country is expressed by its linguistic diversity also. Language diversity should therefore be treasured (Languages of Europe, 2008).


  1. A guide to languages in the European Union. 2008. (online). 
  2. Background Network of European Language Planning Boards. (online).
  3. BLATTBERG,C. 2006. Secular nationhood? The importance of language in the life of nations CAVIEDES,A 2003. The Role of Language in Nation-Building within the European Union.
  4. Ferguson,C.A, Finegan,E, Heath,S.B, Rickford,J.R. 2004. Language in the USA: Themes for the Twenty-first Century.Cambridge: Cambridge University Press P25.
  5. LanguagePolicy.(online).
  6. Linguistic Diversity – Policies. 2008. (online).
  7. Languages of Europe. 2008. (online). Web.
  8. Mutke, L.& Itzel,C.2007. Language policy LEGAL BASIS. (online). Web.
  9. Proposition 227:Anti-Bilingual Education Initiative in California. (online).
  10. Williams.C.H. 2002.Language policy issues within the European Union
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