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English as the Official Language of the United States: An Overview

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Publication Date: April 1997

Publisher(s): Library of Congress. Congressional Research Service

Series: 95-1054

Topic: Culture and religion (Language and languages)


Congressional interest in designating English as the official language of the United States has recently increased as a response to a perceived challenge to English as the common language in America. Consideration of official English proposals raises not only specific issues as to design, but also broader issues regarding the direction of social policy. With respect to proposal design, questions raised include whether to amend the constitution or enact an official English statute, whether to limit application only to official government business, and whether to address related areas such as bilingual education. Regarding the direction of social policy, questions include the need for an official language, whether individual expression would be infringed, and the effect on cultural diversity. This report provides background on contemporary efforts to declare English the official language, a review of selected issues raised by official English proposals in Congress, and a summary of arguments that have been advanced in favor of and in opposition to such proposals.