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Language and the Continental Congress: Language Policy Issues in the Founding Documents of the United States from 1774 to 1789

Although neither the first nor the second constitution of the United States contains any references to the role of languages in the process of nation-building, a few language-related issues emerged from time to time during the early congressional debates and deliberations. These sporadic instances mostly framed the English language as a “pragmatic instrument” rather than a “national ideological symbol.” Consequently, no serious attempts were made either to officially adopt it as the majority language or to enhance its societal role and capacity in identity formation by legislative fiat. The apocryphal accounts of disestablishing English and installing, for example, French, German, or Latin as the de jure official language after the American Revolution probably belong to the realm of language policy myths. Drawing on key legislative documents during the critical years of the founding of the United States and employing language policy classification schemes based on the works of Anderson, Wiley, and Ruiz, the essay proposes a comprehensive overview of how, when, and in what contexts language-related references appeared. (SCz)

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