Public Policy/Advocacy

Statement on Language Questions in the US Census

Adopted February 6, 2008

Whereas:

Anthropology as a profession is committed to the promotion and protection of the right of peoples everywhere to the full realization of their humanity, which is to say their capacity for culture,

and whereas

As a professional organization of anthropologists, as stated in the AAA Declaration on Anthropology and Human Rights, the AAA has long been, and continues to be, concerned whenever human difference is made the basis for a denial of basic human rights, where "human" is understood in its full range of cultural, social, linguistic, psychological, and biological senses,

and whereas

In 1990 the US Census Bureau began categorizing individuals and families as “linguistically isolated “ if their household “ is one in which no member 14 years old and over (1) speaks only English or (2) speaks a non-English language and speaks English "very well"  [Source: U.S. Census Bureau, Census 2000 Summary File 3, Matrices P19, P20, PCT13, and PCT14].

and whereas

there is no threat to the primacy of English, since 82% of the US population speaks only English at home and more than 2/3 of those who do speak a language other than English at home, primarily Spanish speakers, also speak English “well” or “very well” (2000 Census),

and whereas

the Census does not ask about proficiency in any language except English although multilingualism is a valued norm in most communities worldwide, and every national study of education in the US decries the inability of most of the US population to speak a second language, including indigenous and immigrant heritage languages.

and whereas

a widespread and growing English- only ideology,  fostered by misinformation about the desire and ability of immigrants to speak English,  has led numerous states to declare English their official language, thus denying bilingual services, and/or to make it illegal to teach children in their heritage language even when they are also taught in English, 

and whereas

 increasing evidence of linguistic intolerance and linguistic profiling in housing, employment,  education, health, and child custody cases have been documented throughout the USA,

and whereas

the term “linguistically isolated” conveys the false and damaging view  that people who do not speak English very well have no contact with English speakers and/or are outside the pale of U.S. society. More generally, it falsely assumes that it is possible to live a life in any language in linguistic isolation, i.e., isolated from face to face contact or print or electronic media.

and whereas

the Census Bureau's application of the term 'linguistically isolated" to all members of a family in which no one over the age of 14 speaks English “very well” incorrectly categorizes the children in those families under the age of 14 who speak English “very well,” 

and whereas

the Census Bureau' categorizes as “isolated” only the small percent of households in the USA where adults have some difficulty with English, not the great majority in which no one speaks anything but English,

THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED THAT

The American Anthropological Association urge the Census Bureau to include a question about proficiency in languages other than English, and to stop classifying those who speak English less than “very well”-- and all members of their households-- as "linguistically isolated"  because  the term is inaccurate and discriminatory,  and the classification promotes an ideology of linguistic superiority that foments linguistic intolerance and conflict.