The Politics of Bilingualism in the United States

A New Perspective on the Immigration Debate


  • Sarah Vicol Stanford University


bilingualism, immigration, linguistic relativity, Whorfianism, Sapir-Whorf hypothesis, Sapir-Whorf, Whorf, English only, English, language


So much of the rhetoric concerning immigrants today is not actually new. Once one takes a more expansive view of immigration to the United States, one begins to realize that immigrant stereotypes cross boundaries of race, ethnicity, and religion. But how can this be? The answer may lie in perhaps the most obvious yet somehow overlooked parallel between various immigrant groups. Many individuals in the past have arrived to the U.S. speaking very little to no English and subsequently do not give their native languages. The principal source of anti-immigrant sentiment might thus be rooted in language. Unfortunately, while there are plenty of separate studies of immigration and of bilingualism, there is a clear lack of scholarship that investigates the possible link between the two. This paper, while not highly rigorous, attempts to start filling in that gap. It will be shown that there exists a negative correlation between American attitudes towards bilingualism and immigration levels, and that this correlation boils down to three ranges of the foreign-born share of the U.S. population. It will also be shown that race and naturalization status are not confounding variables.


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Humanities and Social Sciences