Date of Award


Document Type

Open Access Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Public Policy

First Advisor

Michael P. Johnson

Second Advisor

Lilia I. Bartolome

Third Advisor

Donaldo P. Macedo


Although the Constitution did not declare English the official language of the United States, its complete linguistic dominance in such a linguistically diverse nation is unparalleled. Despite its supremacy, the last three decades have witnessed a renewed nationalistic movement that claims the role of English is threatened and that its establishment as the official language of the United States is crucial to protect the language and the unity of the nation.

So far, attempts to institutionalize English at the federal level have failed, but 28 states have adopted English as their official language and/or legislation that limits the use of languages other than English in public schools, 25 of them since 1980.

The present dissertation, which draws from critical discourse analysis as a theoretical framework and methodological approach, analyzes the discursive and generic structure, and the rationale and stated outcomes, of official English policies. These policies are examined in relation to the socio-historical context in which they were approved, the strategies of legitimation of those policies, the definition and interpretation of key terms, and the implications for the mutual respect and understanding of the social groups affected by the legislation and for society at large.

Using a logistic regression model, this dissertation captures relevant social, economic, educational, and geopolitical indicators that show a statistical relation to official English policies and may shed light on the reasoning behind them. Finally, the dissertation compares the state expenditures on language programs for linguistic minorities in K-12 public schools and the outcomes of English learners in the two groups of states— those with and without official English policies.

Consistent with findings from previous studies, the results of this study indicate that official English legislation seems to respond to a conservative ideology that seeks to establish a mechanism of internal colonization. In contrast to its stated outcomes, the legislation does not have any relation to increasing access to English in terms of funding for the education of linguistic minority students or to their academic results. In sum, the official English movement may serve, in effect, as an instrument to protect the status quo and thus to perpetuate the privilege of some groups and the subordination of others.