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Racializing Language: A History of Linguistic Ideologies In the US Census

This article builds on research on institutional language policies and practices, and on studies of the legitimization of racial categories in census data collection, in an exploration of language ideologies in the US Census. It traces the changes in
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   Journal of Language and Politics : (), 57–534 . – / - – © John Benjamins Publishing Company  Racializing language A history of linguistic ideologiesin the US Census* Jennifer Leeman George Mason University  is article builds on research on institutional language policies and practic-es, and on studies of the legitimization of racial categories in census data col-lection, in an exploration of language ideologies in the US Census. It tracesthe changes in language-related questions in the two centuries of decennialsurveys, contextualizing them within a discussion of changing policies andpatterns of immigration and nativism, as well as evolving hegemonic notionsof race. It is argued that the US Census has historically used language as anindex of race and as a means to racialize speakers of languages other thanEnglish, constructing them as essentially different and threatening to UScultural and national identity. Keywords: Census, race, racialization, national identity, language ideology  Censuses play a key role in the definition of national and group identities, andthey are closely linked to the assignation and legitimation of political power.Recent studies of the US Census have investigated the ways in which the de-lineation of official race categories has both reflected hegemonic ideologies of difference and been implicated in the legal and social racialization of peoplemarked as different (e.g., Nobles 2000; Rodríguez 2000). However, studies of official racial identities generally have not looked at the role of language andlanguage ideologies, a lacuna which this examination of the US Census lan-guage questions is designed to address. As this analysis will show, hegemonicideologies of language, and of the relationships among language, race, and na-tional identity, have played an important role in the US Census’s official con-struction of difference.  58 Jennifer Leeman e present study builds on research regarding the relationship of insti-tutional policies and practices to language ideologies (e.g., Silverstein 1996;Woolard 1998), and on historical examinations of language ideologies in theUS (e.g., Bonfiglio 2002; Pavlenko 2002; Ricento 1998; Wiley 2000), as well ason studies of the legitimization of racial categories in census data collection(e.g., Kertzer and Arel 2002; Nobles 2000; Rodríguez 2000). My interrelatedgoals are to explore how the US Census has reflected and propagated specificideologies of language, and to contribute to an understanding of official con-structions of race and of American identity. Because debates over immigra-tion and citizenship policies (like censuses) play a key role in the “race-makingprocess” (Carter, Green and Halpern 1996), I contextualize the examination of language questions within a discussion of changing policies and patterns of im-migration and nativism, as well as evolving hegemonic notions of race. I arguethat the US Census has historically used language as an index of race and as ameans to racialize speakers of languages other than English, constructing themas essentially different and threatening to US cultural and national identity. Te terminology of difference: Race and ethnicity  Both race and ethnicity  serve to encode difference among individuals andgroups, and to signify distance from a dominant, oen unmarked, group, butthe kinds of difference they encode are not identical. Historically, race has in- voked difference constructed as physical, hereditary, and immutable, while eth-nicity has been constructed as cultural difference that, while generally passedfrom generation to generation, may change over time. Whereas racializing dis-courses portray certain groups as essentially different and dangerous, ethniciz-ing discourses portray groups as safe and even picturesque (Urciuoli 1996).Although ideologically constructed as a fixed objective entity, race is a his-torically fluid aspect of social identity, as is demonstrated in recent researchdocumenting how different groups have ‘changed’ races according to shiinghegemonic constructions of national identity and belonging, and the concomi-tant shiing perceptions of the groups in question (Jacobson 1998; Ignatiev 1995; Rodríguez 2000). Nonetheless, to claim that race is ‘merely’ a social con-struct would downplay the far-reaching material and social consequences of this construct (Nobles 2000; Urciuoli 1996). In the US, race is ideologically linked to skin color, and historically it has served as the basis of evaluations of social worth as well as official policies granting or withholding concrete legal,  Racializing language 59 political, and property rights. Whereas the primary racial distinction in theUS has been between groups constructed as White and those constructed asnon-White, differences among groups now classified as White have also beenconstructed as racial. Nonetheless, intra-White racial difference has been con-structed as less permanent than racial differences between Whites and othergroups, as will be shown in the subsequent discussion. Te ideology of censuses e categorization of populations according to social and cultural criteria isclosely linked to the emergence of the modern state, as the ideological defi-nition of nations required the delineation and strengthening of boundariesbetween peoples and places (Kertzer and Arel 2002). Censuses have played acrucial role in this creation of “imagined communities” (Anderson 1991) by helping to define and institutionalize the categories deemed relevant to na-tional identities, while at the same time reinforcing the sense of shared identity,or “‘theory’ of ‘groupness’”, among people assigned to the same category (Gold-schneider 2002: 71). As a result of their role in the construction and promul-gation of national and group identities in the public consciousness, censusesare inseparable from state policies which assign differing privileges and rightsto different groups, since they serve as a link between legal and social or cul-tural characteristics, all neatly packaged in quantifiable, presumably objectivedata. Censuses have also been instrumental in the colonial imaginary and itsimplementation, serving to define Others and thus legitimate the relegation of colonial subjects to inferior status (Anderson 1991; Appadurai 1993).Despite modern societies’ tendency to equate knowledge with measure-ment and quantification, and to accord statistics special weight in political de-bate (Appadurai 1993; Urla 1993), the entire process of census-taking, fromelaboration of the survey instrument through enumeration to tabulation anddissemination of results, is fraught with ideology. First, the inclusion and nam-ing of categories not only accords legitimacy to the official constructions of thecategories, but also requires an a priori determination of the categories’ im-portance while simultaneously reinforcing that importance. Decisions abouthow census questions and responses are formulated also reflect assumptionsabout what these categories mean and how they are defined, as well as aboutthe relationship of different categories to each other. Like their inclusion, theomission of certain questions may serve ideological ends, by denying the social  5 Jennifer Leeman importance of particular categories or by refusing to acknowledge the diver-sity of responses that would likely be yielded (Goldschneider 2002; Potter andKnepper 1998).Although statistics are normally presented and perceived as scientific andobjective, the processing, tabulation, and interpretation of census data also in- voke political ideologies (Kertzer and Arel 2002; Urla 1993). Moreover, becausenumbers are given political and social meaning by social actors, statistics canbe used to defend any one of a variety of contradictory positions. Despite theirair of objectivity, then, all aspects of censuses are inevitably shaped by socialand political ideologies. Te US Census Beginning with the first decennial survey in 1790, which had the primary goalof enumerating the population for purposes of electoral apportionment andtaxation, all US Censuses ever conducted have included inquiries on race orcolor, 1 highlighting the salience of race as a social category in the US (Nobles2000, 2002; Rodríguez, 2000). In contrast, the US Census has made inquirieson language only since the late 19th century. e focus and formulation of thelanguage questions have varied, and they have been asked of differing segmentsof the population, as is shown in Table 1. Because language is linked to race andnational identity, the Census questions on race, ethnicity, and nationality areincluded together with the questions on language. Te relative unimportance of language Although color-defined race was a salient social and political characteristicclosely tied to all aspects of the new republic (Jacobson 1998), with this sa-lience reflected in the US Census since its inception (Nobles 2000, 2002), theracialist thinking which would ideologically link American expansionism toa doctrine of Anglo-Saxon racial superiority was not the dominant school of thought until the first part of the 19th century (Horsman 1981). Nor was lan-guage generally considered a defining characteristic of the new nation, despitethe co-existence since the colonial period of dual strands of linguistic ideol-ogy: one emphasizing linguistic uniformity and the relationship of language tonational identity, and the other accepting of linguistic pluralism (Heath 1976;  Racializing language 5     T   a    b    l   e    .    Q  u  a  n   t   i    f  y   i  n  g    d   i    ff  e  r  e  n  c  e  :   L  a  n  g  u  a  g  e ,  r  a  c  e ,  e   t    h  n   i  c   i   t  y ,   p    l  a  c  e  o    f    b   i  r   t    h ,  a  n    d  c   i   t   i   z  e  n  s    h   i   p  q  u  e  s   t   i  o  n  s   i  n   t    h  e    h   i  s   t  o  r  y  o    f   t    h  e   U   S   C  e  n  s  u  s .    Y   e   a   r   L   a   n   g   u   a   g   e   R   a   c   e    /   e   t    h   n   i   c   i   t  y    C   i   t   i   z   e   n   s    h   i   p    /   P    l   a   c   e   o    f    b   i   r   t    h    1   7   9   0  –   F  r  e  e   W    h   i   t  e  s    (    b  y  s  e  x    )  ;   A    l    l  o   t    h  e  r    f  r  e  e   p  e  o   p    l  e    (    b  y  c  o    l  o  r    )  ;   S    l  a  v  e  s   1   8   0   0  –   1   8   1   0  –   F  r  e  e   W    h   i   t  e  s    (    b  y  s  e  x    )  ;   A    l    l  o   t    h  e  r    f  r  e  e   p  e  o   p    l  e  e  x  c  e   p   t   I  n    d   i  a  n  s  n  o   t   t  a  x  e    d    (    b  y  c  o    l  o  r    )  ;   S    l  a  v  e  s   1   8   2   0  –   1   8   4   0  –   F  r  e  e   W    h   i   t  e  s    (    b  y  s  e  x    )  ;   F  r  e  e  c  o    l  o  r  e    d   p  e  r  s  o  n  s    (    b  y  s  e  x    )    (   i  n  c    l  u    d   i  n  g  a    l    l  o   t    h  e  r   p  e  r  s  o  n  s  e  x  c  e   p   t   I  n    d   i  a  n  s  n  o   t   t  a  x  e    d    )  ;   S    l  a  v  e  s    (    b  y  s  e  x    )   F  o  r  e   i  g  n  e  r  s  n  o   t  n  a   t  u  r  a    l   i   z  e    d   1   8   5   0  –   1   8   6   0  –   W    h   i   t  e ,   B    l  a  c    k ,   M  u    l  a   t   t  o   P    l  a  c  e  o    f    b   i  r   t    h   1   8   7   0  –   W    h   i   t  e  ;   B    l  a  c    k  ;   M  u    l  a   t   t  o    (   i  n  c    l  u    d   i  n  g  q  u  a    d  r  o  o  n  s ,  o  c   t  o  r  o  o  n  s  a  n    d  a  n  y  o  n  e  w   i   t    h  a   t  r  a  c  e  o    f   A    f  r   i  c  a  n    b    l  o  o    d    )  ;   C    h   i  n  e  s  e  ;   I  n    d   i  a  n   P    l  a  c  e  o    f    b   i  r   t    h   P  a  r  e  n   t  s  o    f    f  o  r  e   i  g  n    b   i  r   t    h    (  n  o  s   p  e  c   i    fi  c  a   t   i  o  n  o    f  c  o  u  n   t  r  y    )   1   8   8   0   L  a  n  g  u  a  g  e  s   p  o    k  e  n    (   I  n    d   i  a  n  s  c    h  e    d  u    l  e  o  n    l  y    )   W    h   i   t  e  ;   B    l  a  c    k  ;   M  u    l  a   t   t  o    (   i  n  c    l  u    d   i  n  g  q  u  a    d  r  o  o  n  s ,  o  c   t  o  r  o  o  n  s  a  n    d    “  a  n  y  o  n  e  w   i   t    h  a   t  r  a  c  e  o    f   A    f  r   i  -  c  a  n    b    l  o  o    d    ”    )  ;   C    h   i  n  e  s  e  ;   I  n    d   i  a  n   P    l  a  c  e  o    f    b   i  r   t    h   P    l  a  c  e  o    f    b   i  r   t    h  o    f   p  a  r  e  n   t  s   1   8   9   0   E  n  g    l   i  s    h  a    b   i    l   i   t  y  –   I    f  n  o ,    l  a  n  g  u  a  g  e  s   p  o    k  e  n   W    h   i   t  e  ;   B    l  a  c    k    (   ¾  o  r  m  o  r  e    “   B    l  a  c    k    b    l  o  o    d    ”    )  ;   M  u    l  a   t   t  o    (   3   /   8   t  o   5   /   8    “   B    l  a  c    k    b    l  o  o    d    ”    )  ;   Q  u  a    d  r  o  o  n    (   ¼    “   B    l  a  c    k    b    l  o  o    d    ”    )  ;   C    h   i  n  e  s  e  ;   J  a   p  a  n  e  s  e  ;   I  n    d   i  a  n    (  s   p  e  c   i    f  y    “    f  u    l    l    b    l  o  o    d  s  o  r    h  a    l    f  -    b  r  e  e    d  s    ”    )   P    l  a  c  e  o    f    b   i  r   t    h  o    f   p  a  r  e  n   t  s   C   i   t   i   z  e  n  s    h   i   p   1   9   0   0   E  n  g    l   i  s    h  a    b   i    l   i   t  y  –   I    f  n  o ,    l  a  n  g  u  a  g  e  s   p  o    k  e  n   W    h   i   t  e  ;   B    l  a  c    k  ;   C    h   i  n  e  s  e  ;   J  a   p  a  n  e  s  e  ;   I  n    d   i  a  n    (  s   p  e  c   i    f  y    “    f  u    l    l  o  r  m   i  x  e    d    b    l  o  o    d    ”    )   P    l  a  c  e  o    f    b   i  r   t    h   P    l  a  c  e  o    f    b   i  r   t    h  o    f   p  a  r  e  n   t  s   C   i   t   i   z  e  n  s    h   i   p   1   9   1   0   E  n  g    l   i  s    h  a    b   i    l   i   t  y  –   I    f  n  o ,    l  a  n  g  u  a  g  e  s   p  o    k  e  n   M   T  o    f    f  o  r  e   i  g  n  -    b  o  r  n    (   i  n  s   t  r  u  c   t   i  o  n  s  n  o   t   t  o  a  s    k  n  a   t   i  v  e  -    b  o  r  n    )   M   T  o    f    f  o  r  e   i  g  n  -    b  o  r  n   p  a  r  e  n   t  s   W    h   i   t  e  ;   B    l  a  c    k  ;   M  u    l  a   t   t  o  ;   C    h   i  n  e  s  e  ;   J  a   p  a  n  e  s  e  ;   I  n    d   i  a  n    (  s   p  e  c   i    f  y    “   p  r  o   p  o  r   t   i  o  n  o    f   W    h   i   t  e ,   I  n    d   i  a  n  a  n    d   N  e  g  r  o    b    l  o  o    d    ”    )  ;   O   t    h  e  r    (  s   p  e  c   i    f  y    )   P    l  a  c  e  o    f    b   i  r   t    h   P    l  a  c  e  o    f    b   i  r   t    h  o    f   p  a  r  e  n   t  s   C   i   t   i   z  e  n  s    h   i   p   1   9   2   0   A    b    l  e   t  o  s   p  e  a    k   E  n  g    l   i  s    h   ?   M   T  o    f    f  o  r  e   i  g  n  -    b  o  r  n   M   T  o    f    f  o  r  e   i  g  n  -    b  o  r  n   p  a  r  e  n   t  s   W    h   i   t  e  ;   B    l  a  c    k  ;   M  u    l  a   t   t  o  ;   C    h   i  n  e  s  e  ;   J  a   p  a  n  e  s  e  ;   I  n    d   i  a  n  ;   F   i    l   i   p   i  n  o  ;   H   i  n    d  u  ;   K  o  r  e  a  n  ;   O   t    h  e  r    (  s   p  e  c   i    f  y    )   P    l  a  c  e  o    f    b   i  r   t    h   P    l  a  c  e  o    f    b   i  r   t    h  o    f   p  a  r  e  n   t  s   C   i   t   i   z  e  n  s    h   i   p     (       C    o    n     t      i    n    u    e      d     )   M   T  =   M  o   t    h  e  r   t  o  n  g  u  e
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