The Permissive Period: 1700s-1880s

Ovando (2003: 3-4) describes the period between 1700 and 1880 in the U.S. as “inconsistent and contradictory regarding the ideology, policies, and politics of language diversity.” He states that,

though some states published official documents in minority languages, the U.S. Congress consistently refused to do so. Some states authorized bilingual education while others mandated English-only instruction .... Responses to language diversity were shaped by the changing localized political, social, and economic forces rather than by systematic ideas about language itself.

On the whole, however, Ovando portrays eighteenth- and nineteenth-century America as tolerant toward non-English immigrant languages in part because “if individuals did not like their neighbors, they could keep clearing the land and move” (2003: 4).

By the latter half of the nineteenth century, bilingual or non-English instruction was provided in many public and private schools:

German in Pennsylvania, Maryland, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Missouri, Nebraska, Colorado, and Oregon; Swedish, Norwegian, and Danish in Wisconsin, Illinois, Minnesota, Iowa, North and South Dakota, Nebraska, and Washington; Dutch in Michigan; Polish and Italian in Wisconsin; Czech in Texas; French in Louisiana; and Spanish in the Southwest.

(Kloss, 1998, cited in Ovando, 2003: 4)

Although this period can be characterized as permissive toward non-English languages, Ovando (2003) notes that nineteenth-century education in America did not actively encourage bilingualism. Rather, it promoted linguistic assimilation of immigrants, only without the kind of active coercion seen in later decades.

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