CCCC National Language Policy

Conference on College Composition and Communication (CCCC), March 1988, Updated 1992, Revised March 2015


The National Language Policy is a response to efforts to make English the “official” language of the United States. This policy recognizes the historical reality that, even though English has become the language of wider communication, we are a multilingual society. All people in a democratic society have the right to education, to employment, to social services, and to equal protection under the law. No one should be denied these or any civil rights because of linguistic differences. This policy enables everyone to participate in the life of this multicultural nation by ensuring continued respect both for English, our common language, and for the many other languages that contribute to our rich cultural heritage.

CCCC National Language Policy

Be it resolved that CCCC members promote the National Language Policy adopted at the Executive Committee meeting on March 16, 1988. This policy has three inseparable parts:

  1. To provide resources to enable native and nonnative speakers to achieve oral and literate competence in English, the language of wider communication.
  2. To support programs that assert the legitimacy of native languages and dialects and ensure that proficiency in one’s mother tongue will not be lost.
  3. To foster the teaching of languages other than English so that native speakers of English can rediscover the language of their heritage or learn a second language.

Passed unanimously by both the Executive Committee and the membership at the CCCC Annual Meeting in March 1988, the National Language Policy is now the official policy of the CCCC.

Why Do We Need a National Language Policy?

Debates about declaring English the official language of the United States are centuries old. Those who established this nation opposed attempts to designate an official language in order to accommodate diverse colonizers and to maintain their declaration of freedom. However, in the nineteenth century, the government established off-reservation “boarding schools” for Native American children, forcibly removing them from their families and communities, and routinely inflicting severe abuse on Native children for speaking their languages. The explicit mission of the boarding schools was to eradicate Native cultures through forced assimilation. As a result of this U.S. educational policy, Native American languages in the United States are endangered; many are dormant.

Efforts to make English the official language surface during economic downturns or when the threat of war and/or increased immigration triggers widespread fears. During the World War I era, Nebraska passed an “English-Only” law at the height of European immigration. The most recent attempts surfaced in response to the influx of Asian and Latin American immigrants in the late twentieth century. In 1981, the late Senator S.I. Hayakawa sponsored a Constitutional amendment to make English the official language of the United States, which did not pass. In 1983, he founded “U.S. English” to promote national and statewide efforts. (Some accounts also cite John Tanton as a co-founder and driving force in that movement, which was a spinoff from the Federation for American Immigration Reform, also founded by him.) The latest federal proposal, which has been re-introduced in several sessions of Congress, is the English Language Unity Act (H.R. 997). In declaring English the official language of the U.S., this bill would remove the requirement for federal agencies to operate in languages other than English. H.R. 997 is currently before the House Judiciary Committee.

As of January 2015, twenty-eight states have declared English their sole official language. These laws declare that official government business must be conducted only in the English language; some include other restrictions, e.g., against bilingual education. Many Americans mistakenly believe that these laws give citizens the right to insist on “English-Only” everywhere. There has been an increase in the number of court cases in which parents who are not raising their child(ren) in English are threatened with loss of custody; in the re-assignment of teachers who speak accented English; and in the firing of workers who speak a language other than English on the job—including those who were hired to speak Spanish to customers and then ironically fired for speaking Spanish to each other.

Furthermore, throughout the U.S., the belief that “real” Americans speak only English has contributed to increased violence against speakers of other languages. More than 1,000 hate groups now exist in the U.S.; in 2010, the FBI reported that 67 percent of the victims of reported hate crimes were targeted because they were Latinas and Latinos.

In contrast, several states have taken stands against English language protectionism. In 1989, New Mexico, Washington, and Oregon passed “English-Plus” laws that protect the use of languages other than English and encourage the study of foreign languages. In Hawai`i and Alaska, Native languages are co-official with English, and French has special status in Louisiana. Indigenous languages under United States occupation have a particular legal status at the federal level, in part because federally-recognized Native nations have a nation-to-nation legal relationship with the United States government. In addition, in 1990 the Native American Languages Act was signed. It includes Native Hawaiians as well as other Indigenous people of the Pacific under U.S. control.

Many civic, religious and professional organizations also have passed resolutions and issued statements opposing the English-Only movement. These include the American Civil Liberties Union, Linguistic Society of America, National Education Association, Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages, Modern Language Association, National Council for Black Studies, American Council of Teachers of Foreign Languages, Center for Applied Linguistics, American Anthropological Association and American Psychological Association.

While the CCCC National Language Policy supports English as the language of wider communication, it protects the civil rights of speakers of all languages and language varieties, in the hope of contributing to greater linguistic, ethnic, and racial respect and justice in our multiethnic multicultural society.

What’s Wrong with English Only?

Support the National Language Policy: What You Can Do

Selected References

Adams, K. L., & Brink, D. T. (Eds). (1990). Perspectives on Official English: The Campaign for English as the Official Language in the USA. New York: Mouton de Gruyter.

Alim, H. S. (2013). “What if We Occupied Language?” IN Grusky, D. et al. (Eds.), Occupy the Future. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press. pps. 222–242.

Bailey, R. (2004). American English: Its Origins and History. IN Finegan, C. & Rickford, J. (Eds.) Language in the USA: Themes for the Twenty-first Century. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press. pps. 3–38.

Baron, D. E. (1990). The English Only Question. New Haven: Yale University Press.

Baugh, J. (2003). “Linguistic Profiling.” IN Makoni, S., Smitherman, G., Ball, A. F., Spears, A. K. (Eds.) Black Linguistics: Language, Politics and Society in Africa and the Americas. New York & London: Routledge. pps. 155–168.

Bayley, R., & Bonnici, L. (2009). “Recent Research on Latinos in the USA & Canada, Part I: Language Maintenance and Shift and English Varieties.” Language and Linguistics Compass, 3(5), pps. 1300–1313.

Butler, M. A., chair, and the Committee on CCCC Language Statement. (1974). “Students’ Right to Their Own Language.” Special Issue of College Composition and Communication 25 (Fall): pps. 1–32.

Crawford, J. (2008). Advocating for English Learners: Selected Essays. Clevedon, UK & Buffalo: Multilingual Matters.

Crawford, J. (2008). Language Legislation in the U. S. A. Available at:

Crawford, J. (Ed.) (1992). Language Loyalties: A Source Book on the Official English Controversy. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.

Daniels, H. A. (Ed.) (1990). Not Only English: Affirming America’s Multicultural Heritage. Urbana, IL: NCTE.

Fasold, R. (2006). The Politics of Language. IN Fasold, R. W., & Connor-Linton, J. (Eds.) An Introduction to Language and Linguistics. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press. pps. 373–400.

Fishman, J. (2004). “Multilingualism and Non-English Mother Tongues.” IN Finegan, C. & Rickford, J. (Eds.) Language in the USA: Themes for the Twenty-first Century. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press. pps. 116–132.

Freeman, D., & Freeman, Y. (2004). Essential Linguistics: What You Need to Know to Teach Reading, ESL, Spelling, Phonics, Grammar. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.

Grant, R. et al. (2007). “Developing Literacy in Second-Language Learners: Critique from a

Heteroglossic, Sociocultural, and Multidimensional Framework.” Reading Research Quarterly 42(4): pps. 598–609.

Gunderson, L. (2007). English-Only Instruction and Immigrant Students in Secondary Schools: A Critical Examination. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Hinton, L. et al. (2013). The Green Book of Language Revitalization in Practice. Leiden, Netherlands: Brill.

Hinton, L. (2001). How to Keep Your Language Alive: A Commonsense Approach to One-On-One Language Learning. Berkley, CA: Heyday.

Horner, B. et al. (Eds.) (2010). Cross-Language Relations in Composition. Carbondale and Edwardsville, IL: Southern Illinois University Press.

Klug, K. (2012). Native American Languages Act: Twenty Years Later, Has It Made a Difference? Available at [1]

Kroskrity, P. et al. (2009). Native American Language Ideologies: Beliefs, Practices, and Struggles in Indian Country. Tucson, AZ: University of Arizona Press.

Lomawaima, Tsianina K. et al. (2006). To Remain an Indian: Lessons in Democracy from a Century of Native American Education. New York, NY: Teachers College.

Linguistic Society of America (1996). Statement on Language Rights. Available at [2]

Linguistic Society of America (1987). Resolution: English Only. Available at [3]

Lippi-Green, R. (2011). English with an Accent: Language, Ideology and Discrimination in the United States. New York & London: Routledge. 2nd Edition.

Lipski, J. (2008). Varieties of Spanish in the United States. Washington, D.C.: Georgetown University Press.

Matsuda, P. K. (2006). “The Myth of Linguistic Homogeneity in U.S. College Composition.” College English, 68(6), pps. 637–651.

Mizumura, M. (2015). The Fall of Language in the Age of English. New York, NY: Columbia University Press.

Padilla, A. et al. (1991). “The English Only Movement: Myths, Reality, and Implications for Psychology.” American Psychologist, 46(2), pps. 120–130. Available at [4]

Pavlenko, A. (2002). “‘We Have Room for but One Language Here’: Language and National Identity in The U.S. at the Turn of The 20th Century.” Multilingua 21, pps. 163–196.

Piatt, B. (1990). Only English? Law and Language Policy in the United States. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press.

Reyner, J. (1993). “American Indian Language Policy and School Success.” Journal of Educational Issues of Language Minority Students, 12(Special Issue III), Summer pps. 35–59. Available at Teaching Indigenous Languages [5]

Richardson, E. (1998). “The Anti-Ebonics Movement: ‘Standard’ English Only.” Journal of English Linguistics, 26(2), pps. 156–169.

Rosa, J. D. (2012). “Contesting Representations of Immigration: Drop the I-Word Campaign from the Perspective of Linguistic Anthropology.” Anthropology News, 53(8).

Smitherman, G., & Baugh, J. (2002). “The Shot Heard from Ann Arbor: Language Research and Public Policy in African America.” Howard Journal of Communication, Jan–Mar, 2002, 13(1), pps. 5–24.

Smitherman­Donaldson, G. (1987). “Toward a National Public Policy on Language.” College English, 49.1, pps. 29–36.

Southern Poverty Law Center, 2011: 12 EL LATINO, 25 Feb. 2011.

Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages, Inc. (TESOL) (2005). Position Paper on English-Only Legislation in the United States. Available at [6]

Teaching Indigenous Languages (list of resources/books). Available at [7]

Trasvina, J. (1988). Official English/English Only: More than Meets the Eye. Prepared for the National Education Association. Washington, DC: National Education Association.

Trimbur, H. (2010). “Linguistic Memory and the Uneasy Settlement of U. S. English.” IN Horner, B. et al (Eds.), Cross Language Relations in Composition. Carbondale: Southern Illinois UP. pps. 21–41.

Zentella, A.C. (2014). “TWB (Talking while Bilingual): Linguistic Profiling of Latin@s, and other Linguistic Torquemadas.” LATINO STUDIES, 12 (4): pps. 620–635.

Zentella, A. C. (Ed.) 2005. Building on Strength: Language and Literacy in Latino Families and Communities. New York: Teachers College Press. [8] [9]

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