Constructing a Language Problem: Paternalism, Power Devaluation, and the Legitimation of Nativism in the English-only Movement

Master's Thesis


Between 1984 and 2010, the “English-only” movement successfully lobbied for legislation to make English the official language of 24 states and to restrict bilingual public education in three others. Using county-level data on voting outcomes in states that voted on anti-bilingual-education laws, I evaluate both class- and status-based explanations for movement support. I find support for the status-based power devaluation perspective — an alternative to the dominant theories of symbolic politics — and for a “new nativism” grounded in fiscal conservatism. Ironically, support for English-only legislation tends to be highest where immigrants are making the most gains in terms of language acquisition.


Attribute NameValues
  • etd-12122013-144136

Author Kevin Anthony Estep
Advisor Rory McVeigh
Contributor Lyn Spillman, Committee Member
Contributor Kraig Beyerlein, Committee Member
Contributor Rory McVeigh, Committee Chair
Degree Level Master's Thesis
Degree Discipline Sociology
Degree Name MA
Defense Date
  • 2013-11-01

Submission Date 2013-12-12
  • United States of America

  • status politics

  • language policy

  • English-only

  • symbolic politics

  • social movements

  • immigration

  • University of Notre Dame

  • English

Record Visibility Public
Content License
  • All rights reserved

Departments and Units


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