Language Policy in the United States

Peter M. Tiersma

in The Oxford Handbook of Language and Law

Published in print March 2012 | ISBN: 9780199572120
Published online November 2012 | | DOI:

Series: Oxford Handbooks in Linguistics

Language Policy in the United States

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  • Linguistics
  • Forensic Linguistics
  • Sociolinguistics



The United States is often called a nation of immigrants. The earliest migrants were the Native Americans or Indians. Starting in the early 1600s, European immigrants began to arrive on the east coast, mostly from England and other parts of northern Europe. Spaniards explored and colonized the southwest of what is now the United States, and somewhat later, Russian traders were active in Alaska and the Pacific coast. Today, English is heavily dominant in almost all of the United States, but it was not always so. Even now, there are substantial linguistic minorities throughout the country. This article, which examines language policy in the United States, provides a background on Native American languages, European languages in early America, and immigration in America during World War I. It also looks at the movement to make English the official language of the United States, focusing on Arizona's law and resulting litigation and the Kritz case in Alaska. The article concludes by considering governmental services to non-English speakers in the areas of medical care and social services, elections, and education.

Keywords: language policy; United States; immigrants; immigration; Native Americans; Europe; English; linguistic minorities; non-English speakers; governmental services

Article.  5775 words. 

Subjects: Linguistics ; Forensic Linguistics ; Sociolinguistics

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