Washington Law Review


Despite the preeminence of English in international discourse and census data indicating that ninety-nine percent of Americans speak English either very well or well, the Official English movement has garnered significant political support over the last ten years. Divorced from its political polemic, the objective of the Official English movement is the adoption of an "English Language Amendment" (ELA) to the Constitution that would require the use of English in public discourse as a matter of law. This Article approaches the question of what legal difference an ELA would make by studying the French experience under a recently adopted constitutional amendment to officialize its national language and comparing the French linguistic regime to its American counterpart. The Article demonstrates that the French approach to language regulation has not been particularly successful. Moreover, the degree to which France has gone to protect its language requires a level of government intrusion into speech that would not be tolerable under the U.S. Constitution. The Article concludes that the French approach is both futile and unnecessarily repressive and suggests that the proposed ELA is similarly ill-conceived and unwarranted.

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