Monolingual Language Ideologies and the Idealized Speaker: The “New Bilingualism”
Meets the “Old” Educational Inequities
by Chris K. Chang-Bacon - 2021
Background/Context: After decades of restrictive U.S. language policies geared toward English-only education, recent years have
seen a proliferation of dual-language programs, Seal of Biliteracy awards, and bilingual education programming more broadly.
The demand for such programming ostensibly suggests growing consensus around the benefits of linguistic diversity—dubbed “The
New Bilingualism” by The Atlantic in 2016. However, recent research suggests that the pivot to this New Bilingualism is largely
taking place in contexts of privilege, disproportionately benefiting English-dominant, middle- and upper-class communities as
compared with multilingual communities where demand for bilingual programming is not “new” at all.
Focus of Study: This piece explores how recent, well-intentioned expansions in bilingual education programming may actually
reinforce historical inequities. Putting forth a framework of idealized language ideologies, the article documents how
bilingualism has historically been encouraged for some and denied to others in U.S. education and policy contexts.
Research Design: Through historical analysis, this article documents how language ideologies overlap with racism and
nationalism in educational and policy contexts across key periods of U.S. history and into the present day.
Conclusions/Recommendations: A framework of idealized language ideologies foregrounds (1) idealized language practices, (2)
idealized speakers, and (3) institutional interests, highlighting how these dynamics function to maintain educational and broader
social inequities. Applying such a lens makes it possible to simultaneously acknowledge positive expansions of bilingual
programming, while also questioning the framing of such programming as “new” or as a panacea for educational inequality. In a
time of rapid expansion for bilingual educational programming, this piece demonstrates that even bilingualism can be
normatively framed as an idealized language ideology to reinforce problematic language hierarchies. Thus, it is imperative that
teachers, teacher educators, and policy makers reckon with these historical dynamics to ensure that educational models designed
to ameliorate linguistic inequities do not end up reproducing them instead.
Graduates in white and purple robes exited the auditorium, their newly turned tassels bouncing as they sang and danced
to a recording of the popular Latin salsa tune, “Vivir Mi Vida.” They had just graduated . . . many with more than a high-
school diploma. Forty-six of the 51 new alumni of the dual-language school had also earned a Seal of Biliteracy, an
official recognition of their academic proficiency in both English and Spanish.
— “The New Bilingualism,” The Atlantic (Gross, 2016)
As the preceding celebratory scene exemplifies, there has been a significant shift in the U.S. educational landscape. After decades
of restrictive language policies geared toward English-only education (Battey et al., 2013; Olsen, 2009), recent years have seen a
proliferation of dual-language programs, Seal of Biliteracy awards, and bilingual education programming more broadly (Boyle et
al., 2015; Dorner, 2016; Heineke & Davin, 2020). Ostensibly, the demand for such programming suggests a growing consensus
around the benefits of linguistic diversity—a “New Bilingualism,” as dubbed by The Atlantic (Gross, 2016). However, recent
research suggests that the pivot to this so-called New Bilingualism is largely taking place in contexts of privilege,
disproportionately benefiting English-dominant, middle- and upper-class communities, as compared with multilingual communities
where demand for such programming is not “new” at all (Cervantes-Soon et al., 2017; Flores & García, 2017; Morales & Rao, 2015;
Valdez et al., 2016).
Some suggest that the dramatic increase in demand for bilingual educational programming represents a tipping point in a nation
with a history of monolingual orientations. As I argue in this piece, however, understanding this shift necessitates a framework that
puts these orientations, or language ideologies (Irvine et al., 2009; Rosa & Burdick, 2017), into conversation with broader histories
of racism, nationalism, and educational policy in U.S. contexts.1 Such a framework reveals the New Bilingualism as less “new,” and
instead as a continuation of U.S. language policy that has always advocated bilingualism for some and monolingualism for others.
As educational research proceeds to document inequitable access to this New Bilingualism, I argue that teachers and researchers
must ask why the New Bilingualism continues to replicate the same “old” educational inequalities (Bartolomé, 2010; Carter
Andrews et al., 2019; Souto-Manning, 2019).
In this piece, I offer a framework of idealized language ideologies—the process by which (1) a certain set of language practices
become idealized, (2) in regard to particular populations, and (3) in the interests of particular institutional power dynamics. Core
to this framework is an exploration of monolingualism itself. Indeed, the very possibility of a New Bilingualism necessitates an
“old” monolingualism to be supplanted. But what, exactly, is that monolingualism? Through this framework, I document the
ideological erasure that must take place to portray bilingualism as “new” in a country that has always been characterized by
multilingual language practices.
In particular, I highlight the role of education in maintaining or disrupting idealized language ideologies, both historically and
today. Though the use of education to maintain problematic language hierarchies has been documented (e.g., Macedo, 2000;
Spring, 2016; Wiley, 2014), these histories largely focus on restrictive, monolingual language policies rather than the current
pendulum swing toward a seeming embrace of bilingualism in educational contexts. A consequence of this disconnect is the
temptation to view the New Bilingualism as a quick fix for educational and linguistic inequities, even as those inequities stubbornly
Instead, exploring the notion of a New Bilingualism through a lens that accounts for idealized language ideologies, nationalism, and
racism makes it possible to simultaneously acknowledge the positive growth of bilingual programming, while also questioning its
“newness” or role as a panacea for linguistic inequity. In a time of rapid expansion for bilingual education—with laudable moves
toward bilingualism for all (see Flores et al., 2020; Hamman, 2018; Morales & Razfar, 2016)—such a lens empowers teachers and
researchers to play a role in determining what “for all” truly means.
To achieve these aims, I first present a theoretical perspective that connects language ideologies to educational policy and
classroom practice. In this section, I begin with a brief overview of monolingualism as a language ideology and its role in education
—in other words, bringing the New Bilingualism into conversation with the old monolingualism it purports to supplant. I then
introduce a framework of idealized language ideologies that highlights (1) idealized language practices, (2) idealized speakers, and
(3) institutional interests. For the remainder of the piece, I apply this framework to a historical analysis of educational language
policy and practice (Tollefson, 2015) across four eras of U.S. history—the colonial era, the Americanization era, the civil rights era,
and today. This analysis illustrates how idealized language ideologies have been used to uphold linguistic, racial, and educational
hierarchies across these eras and into the present day. Ultimately, this framework helps explain why well-intentioned educational
models designed to ameliorate linguistic inequities can end up reproducing them instead. The conclusion of the article offers
implications for teachers and educational researchers for addressing idealized language ideologies and the inequities these
ideologies create in schools and in society writ large.
THEORETICAL FRAMEWORK: FROM MONOLINGUALISM TO IDEALIZED LANGUAGE IDEOLOGIES
MONOLINGUAL LANGUAGE IDEOLOGIES
The study of language ideologies explores how beliefs about language influence, and are influenced by, societal power dynamics
(Irvine et al., 2009; Rosa & Burdick, 2017). Previous research has studied language ideologies that uphold monolingualism as a
“norm,” even though the majority of the world’s population is multilingual (Shin, 2017). Ellis (2006) identified three major
representations of monolingualism in scholarship: (1) monolingualism as the unmarked case; (2) monolingualism as a limitation;
and (3) monolingualism as a dangerous phenomenon. In the first representation, monolingualism is the unmarked case when it is
treated as the “default” mode of language use. The way students are labeled in U.S. educational contexts exemplifies this
phenomenon, with students learning English receiving marked status through specialized labels, such as English language learners,
whereas monolingual speakers of the dominant language are simply students (Gogolin, 1997; Matsuda & Duran, 2013). The second
representation of monolingualism as a limitation frames being monolingual as a disadvantage for individual language users,
education systems, or nations as a whole. Such limitations might include economic or professional disadvantages in an increasingly
multilingual globalized workforce (Callahan & Gándara, 2014). Finally, monolingualism as a dangerous phenomenon highlights how
monolingual language ideologies have been used to marginalize certain groups while maintaining the power of others (Heller &
McElhinny, 2017; Motha, 2014). This can manifest overtly, such as the literal banning of specific languages, or it may operate more
subtly. Educational researchers, for example, argue that monolingual testing policies prevent accurate assessment of multilingual
populations, leading to inordinate tracking of students learning English into remedial education and underrepresentation in gifted
educational programming (García & Kleifgen, 2018; MacSwan & Rolstad, 2006).
Importantly, language ideologies do not necessarily reflect the actual language practices of a given community. Instead, they
reflect beliefs, or dominant ideas of what language practices are presumed to (or supposedly ought to) look like within these
contexts. For example, language ideologies can frame a nation such as the United States, where a variety of multilingual language
practices have always existed, as a ubiquitously monolingual country (Wiley, 2014). Irvine et al. (2009) described this process as
erasure, wherein the existence of language practices that do not fit within the schema of a dominant language ideological
narrative are ignored or explained away. Such erasure makes it possible to idealize monolingualism as a norm, even in pervasively
multilingual contexts (Silverstein, 1996; Yildiz, 2012).
Education plays a key role in this process. Research has demonstrated that students quickly learn—both directly and indirectly—
which languages practices are deemed acceptable in the classroom and which are framed as incorrect (Bacon, 2017; Delpit &
Dowdy, 2008; Howard & Rodriguez-Minkoff, 2017; Lippi-Green, 2012). In school contexts, this framing can range from enforcing
English-only classrooms to teachers disparaging students’ legitimate use of their own dialectal variations. Despite long-standing
evidence that all language varieties are equal from a linguistic standpoint (e.g., Labov, 1969; Rickford, 1999), educational
researchers continue to document the elevation of some language practices over others in K–12 classrooms and teacher education—
biases that generally map onto preexisting racial and class prejudices (Baker-Bell, 2020; Flores & Rosa, 2015; Godley et al., 2015;
Metz, 2018; Smith, 2019). The pervasiveness of these language ideologies in educational spaces can convince students that
linguistic biases are legitimate, thus furthering the intergenerational renewal of monolingual language ideologies.
AN EXTENDED FRAMEWORK: IDEALIZED LANGUAGE IDEOLOGIES
In addition to monolingualism as a language ideology, I argue that there is much to gain from a related, but broader framework of
idealized language ideologies.2 Monolingual language ideologies uphold one specific language practice as the norm (e.g., so-called
standard English). On the other hand, a framework of idealized language ideologies highlights the malleability of these supposed
norms—involving (1) a set of idealized language practices (2) mapped onto an idealized speaker (3) in relation to certain
institutional interests or power dynamics (see Figure 1). This framework helps to explain the entrenchment of problematic
language hierarchies, whether through restrictive monolingual language policies or within educational programs ostensibly geared
Figure 1. Idealized language ideologies framework
The first part of the framework focuses on idealized language practices. All language practices are, from a linguistic standpoint,
equally complex in their rule-governedness and potential for expression (Reaser et al., 2017; Rickford, 1999). Nevertheless, as
described earlier, research has documented the persistence of common, though erroneous, notions that there exists a specific set
of language practices that represents the most “correct” form of language use (e.g., English-only or so-called standard English in
U.S. educational and societal contexts). However, rather than ending with the idea of a singular, static “standard” that is equally
applied to all speakers in all contexts, I argue that it is also necessary to explore how idealized language practices, in fact, shift in
relation to specific individuals, groups, or power dynamics. This stands in contrast to monolingual language ideologies—a theory
that can fall into its own trap by suggesting that there exists an objective, static (literally mono-lingual) language practice that is
consistently held up as the standard in the first place. Instead, idealized language practices highlight the inconsistency with which
various language practices come to be idealized in relation to the other two components of the framework.
Thus, the second part of the framework highlights an idealized speaker. This concept underscores how different sets of language
practices can be idealized for different individuals, groups, or populations. In educational contexts, for example, white, English-
dominant students may be praised for attaining an idealized form of bilingualism (e.g., studying Spanish or French in school or
abroad), whereas students of color who grew up speaking multiple languages are not afforded the same level of recognition (Flores
& Rosa, 2015) and may even be compelled toward English-monolingualism. As another example, Black youth who speak dialectal
varieties of African American Vernacular English (i.e., Black English; see Baker-Bell, 2020) may be taught that an idealized speaker
knows how to code switch into idealized dialects of English associated with white middle-class individuals or institutions. In this
way, recognizing the notion of an idealized speaker offers the possibility to challenge assumptions around whose language
practices should be accommodated, and by whom. Analyzing the shifting standards of what becomes idealized based on who is
doing the speaking reveals factors such as race, class, gender, abledness, or other sociocultural ways of being that shape idealized
language ideologies and who stands to benefit from them.
The third part of the framework, institutional interests, focuses on the role of societal institutions and the power dynamics they
reproduce. Institutions can include schools, professions, or even the nation-state. A nation-state, for example, may promote
different language practices for different speakers for different purposes. The idea of a monolingual nation may be seen as a way
to encourage social cohesion, commerce, or the power of a particular linguistic group (Gramling, 2016). However, that same
nation-state may shift its priorities to idealize the economic necessity of a multilingual workforce that can compete in an
increasingly global economy (Shin, 2017). A common justification for the New Bilingualism, in fact, cites the economic advantage
of bilingualism for employers, governments, and business interests (or what some have called the commodification of language;
see Heller, 2010). In these ways, institutional interests play a key role in relation to the other components of the framework—
revealing why or to what ends certain language practices become idealized for different individuals while also affording
institutional legitimization to idealized language ideologies themselves.
THE FRAMEWORK IN TANDEM
Idealized language ideologies are more than the sum of their three parts—in tandem, each component can be used to mask or
justify another. A teacher might evade the criticism, for example, of favoring white middle-class language practices by framing
instructional choices as simply teaching a “neutral” set of idealized (i.e., standard, academic, professional) language practices. In
this way, the specific attributes of the idealized speaker (e.g., race, gender, abledness) can be replaced by ostensibly neutral
language practices. Likewise, any movement toward legitimizing a broader range of language practices in schools can be met with
reference to institutional interests or access—the argument that students must acquiesce to idealized language practices for cover
letters, job interviews, or standardized assessments. Thus, the reproduction of idealized language ideologies can even be couched
in terms of social justice, positing that students’ use of idealized language practices will insulate them from other forms of race,
class, or linguistic discrimination—a theory of change that rarely plays out in practice (Alim & Smitherman, 2012; Baker-Bell, 2020;
Flores & Rosa, 2015; Metz, 2018).
Furthermore, a framework of idealized language ideologies allows for a more comprehensive and nuanced understanding of
language in society: that even bilingualism can be framed as an idealized language practice and leveraged to advantage some
groups over others. This is represented quite literally in popular mantras such as “Monolingualism is the illiteracy of the 21st
century” (Roberts et al., 2018, p. 116). Of course, such statements represent a well-intentioned reframing of historical linguistic
discrimination. Nevertheless, both notions—monolingualism as the norm or bilingualism as superior—represent idealized language
ideologies. Thus, this framework opens up the possibility to analyze the history of U.S. education not as an inevitable march
toward monolingualism, but as a complex interaction of language practices, speakers, and institutional interests in which both
monolingualism and multilingualism have been strategically deployed to uphold particular educational norms and societal power
TOWARD A HISTORY OF PRODUCTION
Most efforts to expose or even dismantle problematic language hierarchies in educational contexts have focused on the existence
of linguistic hierarchies themselves rather than the process from which they have been created. I suggest that it is impossible to
disrupt these hierarchies without first understanding their history of production (see Figure 1). Therefore, in the remainder of this
piece, I apply the framework of idealized language ideologies to educational policies and practices throughout U.S. history. Far
from a comprehensive history, this analysis highlights key shifts and continuities in educational and societal language policies
across four focal eras: the colonial era, the Americanization era, and the civil rights era, and the New Bilingualism in the present
day. This analysis illustrates how movements toward English-monolingualism and the encouragement of bilingualism (for some)
have both been leveraged in relation to institutional interests across these eras. I argue that grappling with these histories
represents a necessary first step for teachers and educational researchers to disrupt the linguistic, racial, and nationalist
hierarchies produced through idealized language ideologies.
THE HISTORICAL PRODUCTION OF IDEALIZED LANGUAGE IDEOLOGIES IN EDUCATIONAL POLICY AND PRACTICE
COLONIAL EDUCATION POLICIES: WHOSE BILINGUALISM MATTERS?
Policies geared toward idealizing a certain set of language practices have long been a tool of empire and nation building (Motha,
2014; Phillipson, 1992), particularly in regard to U.S. education and its relationship to colonialism (Spring, 2016). However, it is
important to acknowledge that monolingualism has never been an actual reflection of language practices on the North American
continent, where well over 300 Native American languages have historically been spoken (Brisk, 2006). In the era of European
colonization, the language practices of Native Americans and European colonists were characterized by multilingualism as a social,
economic, and political necessity (McCarty, 2004). When the Dutch ceded the area of Manhattan to Great Britain in 1664, it is
estimated that at least 18 European languages were spoken on the island (Crawford, 1999). Early colonies were established with
multiple official languages, and even into the early years of U.S. nationhood, it was common for both federal and state
declarations to be printed in a variety of European languages (de Jong, 2011).
Yet, within in the multilingual reality that characterized the North American continent, linguistic accommodations were only
offered for some, while others were compelled toward monolingualism. Applying the notion of the idealized speaker highlights
that multilingual accommodations of the era were almost exclusively afforded in the case of European colonists and their white
descendants, whereas the use of non-European languages, particularly among populations of color, was often restricted or banned
outright (Wiley, 2014). Native American languages, for example, were regarded as inferior and potently subversive within early
U.S. language policy (Spring, 2016). Likewise, it was common for enslaved Africans to be segregated into heterogeneous language
groups, or forbidden to speak non-European languages, a practice enforced by white enslavers to sever cultural and familial bonds
while hindering the possibility of revolt (McCarty, 2004; Rickford & Rickford, 2000). Thus, institutional interests—in this case, the
anti-indigenous interests of a settler nation-state and the economic interests of enslavers—accommodated bilingual language
practices for Europeans and their descendants racialized as white, while the idealized language practices for Black and Native
American populations of the era involved enforced English monolingualism.
Education played a key role in upholding idealized language ideologies in the colonial era. Rather than an inevitable march toward
monolingualism for all, as the early history of U.S. education is often framed, the distinctions between accommodating and
suppressing bilingualism in the early years of U.S. nationhood largely fell along racialized lines of idealized-speakerhood and
institutional interests. As the nation’s leadership increasingly recognized that public education (for white, and usually male,
pupils) would be in the national interest, schools offered instruction in a number of languages spoken by European immigrant
communities to popularize public schooling (Crawford, 1999; de Jong, 2011). Even as English became the dominant medium of
public schooling, the study of additional languages was a core component of early U.S. curriculum. Students were expected to
study “classical” languages such as Latin and Greek, as well as “modern” languages like French and German (Schiro, 2012).
Prominent figures of the time, such as Thomas Jefferson, were educated multilingually and lauded for their cosmopolitan
multilingualism (Monticello, 2020). At the same time, the humans Jefferson and other white plantation owners enslaved would
have been subject to laws forbidding their education altogether (Rickford & Rickford, 2000). As such, while the study of multiple
languages was established as a core component of early U.S. education, those who were forbidden access to that education,
particularly populations of color, were compelled toward English-monolingualism. Subsequent portrayals of these populations as
uneducated, and their language practices illegitimate, were used to justify the institutional interests of continued enslavement
(DeBose, 2007), the further appropriation of Native American lands (Grande, 2015), and the broader maintenance of racial
hierarchies in U.S. education and national policy.
Framing Idealized Language Ideologies
The idealized language ideologies of this era made foundational contributions to educational policies and practices that resonate
across U.S. history. In particular, the ways that both monolingualism and bilingualism have been variously promoted for certain
populations underscore the malleability of idealized language ideologies, which can be shaped to advance particular institutional
interests. Early educational policies were enacted specifically to encourage some populations into the growing institution of public
schooling (e.g., German-speaking immigrants) and to exclude others (e.g., populations of color, regardless of the languages they
spoke). The resulting linguistic hierarchies were then used to justify educational access for certain populations, which in turn
reinforced racist ideas around the intellectual and cultural superiority of European colonizers and their white descendants (Kendi,
2016). As we will see in the following section, however, institutional interests can and do shift. And these changes can result in a
reframing of what language practices and which speakers are idealized. In such times of change, education continues to play a key
role in establishing and reinforcing new sets of idealized language ideologies.
EDUCATION FOR “AMERICANIZATION”: WHOSE MONOLINGUALISM MATTERS?
Although the guiding question of early U.S. educational policy and practice may have asked whose bilingualism matters, the period
that came to be known as the Americanization era highlights a new question: Whose monolingualism matters? In the early to mid-
20th century, immigration from non-Anglophone countries sharply increased. As a result, language, and the idea of a monolingual
nation in particular, played a heightened role in institutional interests across both education and policy toward attempts to define
what it meant to be “American.” Throughout this era, both immigration and educational policies were informed by nativist
backlash (Galindo, 2011) leading U.S. lawmakers to enact explicit language-based immigration policies. Immigrants from China
faced a full immigration ban in 1882, the first such ban in U.S. history, partially based on the argument that Chinese immigrants
ostensibly refused to assimilate linguistically (Lee, 2003). The Naturalization Act of 1906 made the ability to speak English a
requirement for naturalized citizenship, and the Immigration Act of 1924 included a system of quotas privileging immigrants from
English-speaking countries. Such policies legislated notions of an idealized speaker in regard to immigrant populations—namely
those already able to speak English or those quick to assimilate to English monolingualism (Knobel, 1996).
Although assimilation to English monolingualism was often considered the driving force of this distinction, it is important to note
how this assimilation-via-language was afforded to some populations more readily than others. In particular, it is necessary to
explore how proximity to evolving institutional standards of whiteness influenced who could or could not embody this “American”
identity and how schools played a key role in institutionalizing the idealized language ideologies of the era.
Throughout the Americanization era, education was widely viewed as the space in which to rectify the perceived nonassimilation
of immigrant communities (Mirel, 2010) and to “Americanize” colonized populations (Dunbar-Ortiz, 2014). Spanish-speaking
communities in Mexican territories annexed by the United States after the Mexican-American War were compelled to use English
(Crawford, 2000), and many Native American children were forcibly removed from their families and communities to attend
English-only boarding schools (Wolfe, 2006; Woolford, 2015). Punitive educational practices, such as disciplining students, often
physically, for speaking languages other than English, were common (Spring, 2016). In regard to pedagogy, students learning English
as a new language in schools received very little support: Pupils were placed in English-only classrooms with few instructional
accommodations (i.e., a “sink or swim” model; Wright, 2019); newly arrived students were often placed in first grade regardless of
age; and the emerging popularization of standardized intelligence tests led to a disproportionate number of immigrant students
being identified as cognitively disabled (de Jong, 2011). As new laws codified a core purpose of schooling as the acquisition of
English (Knobel, 1996), schools became a primary place in which the English language was explicitly associated with national
identity, other languages with foreign-ness, and their speakers as decidedly non-American (Galindo, 2011).
However, it is important to complexify the popular narrative around the Americanization era as purely a drive toward
monolingualism. Somewhat paradoxically, this was also the period in which the learning of so-called foreign languages became
increasingly popular in U.S. curriculum (Schiro, 2012). Schools began to deprioritize the “classic” languages of Latin and Greek to
focus on “modern” foreign languages such as French, German, and Spanish, which remain the most studied languages other than
English in U.S. schools today (American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages, 2011). Notably, such education was only
afforded to a privileged minority of students, with only 22% of students estimated to be enrolled in foreign language learning by
1949 (Kliebard, 2018). Multiple wars and colonization campaigns of the era had made multilingualism a military necessity, and the
U.S. government coordinated efforts to bolster language education (Pavlenko, 2003). Even Native American languages, having
survived centuries of policies geared toward their eradication, played a key role in U.S. military strategy—including the Navajo
code talkers, whose ancestral language was promoted as an undecipherable code during World War II (Meadows, 2016).
As in the colonial era, idealized language practices played out differently in regard to various populations and institutional
interests. Although immigrants from a range of global contexts faced discrimination and struggled under the pressures toward
linguistic and cultural assimilation, immigrants who could meet the malleable U.S. standards of whiteness were afforded various
privileges such as land allowances (e.g., Homestead Acts, 1862–1934; Shanks, 2005), voting rights, and access to public schooling
(Omi & Winant, 2014; Spring, 2016). While no guarantee to unfettered prosperity, “Americanization,” particularly assimilation to
the idealized language practices of English monolingualism, generally afforded the descendants of European immigrants access to
the full potentialities of U.S. citizenship within one to two generations (Roediger, 2006).
For both immigrant and U.S.-born populations of color, mastery of the idealized language practices of English monolingualism came
with few such benefits. Though restrictive language policies continued to compel populations of color toward English
monolingualism and specific dialectal varieties therein (Bonfiglio, 2010), this linguistic assimilation guaranteed no change in legal
status for populations of color who had been, and were further, barred from education, employment, and civic participation for
generations (Ortiz, 2018). Immigrant populations of all races and nationalities largely assimilated to the language practices of
English monolingualism (Wiley, 2000), but those who did not qualify for the American legal construction of whiteness were still
denied full access to many of the privileges of U.S. citizenship and educational access for generations.
Framing Idealized Language Ideologies
Thus, the question of the Americanization era—Whose monolingualism counts?—plays a key role in the historical production of
idealized language ideologies in U.S. educational contexts. In contrast to some histories of the era, the nativist backlash of the age
was not solely an issue of immigrants’ perceived ability to speak English. If that had been the case, all immigrant populations—
who, by and large, took up English usage at similar rates—would have benefitted equally. This highlights a key feature of idealized
language ideologies: that it is not only a matter of attaining a set of certain, idealized language practices, but how those language
practices relate to instructional interests for different groups of idealized speakers, particularly in regard to race and perceived
citizenship. In other words, the continued institutional interests of colonization and white societal dominance remain foundational
to the historical production of idealized language ideologies in educational and broader societal contexts. These interests are
further exemplified in the case of the civil rights era, as explored in the next section.
FROM CIVIL RIGHTS TO LEGISLATED ENGLISH: WHOSE LANGUAGE IS LEGAL?
The civil rights era of the mid-20th century led to major changes in education and U.S. society at large. This included many well-
known historical landmarks, such as the Brown v. Board of Education (1954) school desegregation ruling and the Civil Rights Act of
1964. Educational and community advocates also fought for increased recognition for the racially and linguistically diverse
populations in U.S. schools during this era, including the Bilingual Education Act of 1968 and the Supreme Court ruling in Lau v.
Nichols in 1974. In Lau (1974), the court determined that students in English-only education settings “who do not understand
English are effectively foreclosed from any meaningful education” (p. 566), and it established refusals to accommodate the needs
of students who were learning English as a civil rights violation.
However, in the largely decentralized U.S. education system, such federal mandates carry little directive weight on exactly how
such policies are implemented (Reyes, 2006; Spillane, 2009). At the state level, the decades following initial victories for bilingual
language rights saw an unprecedented push for English-only legislation. Before 1981, only two states (Illinois, 1923; Nebraska,
1923) had laws declaring English the official language of the state. For most of U.S. history, there was little widespread concern
that the nation’s overwhelmingly dominant language needed legal protection (Crawford, 2000). However, state policies in the late
20th century developed within a context of backlash against the civil rights movement and shifts in immigration patterns,
particularly increased immigration from Latin America and Asia (de Jong, 2011). This opposition was fueled by a spike in political
rhetoric around undocumented migration (Hornberger et al., 1999) and projections that the United States would become a
majority non-white nation by the mid-21st century (Arington, 1991).
Informed by this rhetoric, 27 additional states passed legislation declaring English the sole official state language between 1981
and 2016. Such laws generally mandate that all official state business, record-keeping, publications, and legal proceedings be
conducted in English. Despite the construction of such policies to discriminate based on language, not race, such policies have
since been shown to have a disproportionate impact on multilingual communities of color (Macedo, 2000), erecting barriers to civic
participation, immigration, voting, employment, and legal due process (Barros, 2017).
At the turn of the 21st century, this momentum for legislative monolingualism was broadened to target K–12 education specifically
through English-only education mandates passed by voters in California (1998), Arizona (2000), and Massachusetts (2002). Whereas
the previous “official state language” laws did not necessarily apply to K–12 education explicitly, this series of English-only
education bills mandated that “all public school children must be taught English by being taught all subjects in English and being
placed in English language classrooms” (Galvin, 2002, p. 6). These bills led to the dismantling of bilingual education in states with
historically robust bilingual programming and policies (McField, 2014).
Still, even within this period of legislated monolingualism, the value of bilingualism continued to be institutionally recognized in
certain contexts. Research increasingly demonstrated the cognitive benefits of bilingualism (e.g., Bialystok, 2011), and arguments
for the necessity of a multilingual workforce in response to an ever more globalized economy abounded (Callahan & Gándara,
2014; Shin, 2017). Notably, some of the English-only education laws were waived in the case of dual-language programs that served
the needs of students already fluent in English (Boyle et al., 2015; Cervantes-Soon, 2014). Crucially, such programming was not
widely available to students designated as English learners, who instead primarily received mandated English-only education (Arias
& Faltis, 2012). In addition, despite its English-only education law, California passed the nation’s first legislation to award a Seal of
Biliteracy to students who demonstrated competence in multiple languages on graduation (Heineke & Davin, 2020). Although
official data are not consistently gathered on who attains such seals, recent research suggests that students designated as English
learners are not the primary beneficiaries, as compared with English-dominant students positioned as studying in “foreign” or
“world” languages (Subtirelu et al., 2019). This phenomenon is laid particularly bare in the case of Arizona, which approved a Seal
of Biliteracy in 2016, but as of this writing still mandates English-only education for students designated as English learners
Framing Idealized Language Ideologies
Thus, harkening back to the early period of colonization, tensions continued to manifest in regard to idealized language ideologies
and the institutional interests that shape these ideologies in practice—promoting bilingualism for some, and enforcing
monolingualism for others. Although the decades following the civil rights era saw some of the first national legislation geared
toward addressing the needs of students learning English in U.S. classrooms, there was also a major push to legislate particular
sets of idealized language practices at the institutional level, both in schools and in U.S. society more broadly, through English-only
laws. Still, recognition around the value of bilingualism and the availability of bilingual education programming increased—for
some—throughout this era and into the modern day. These tensions have arguably come to the fore in current educational policy
and practice through the notion of a New Bilingualism.
THE “NEW BILINGUALISM”: NEW FOR WHOM?
That the United States has never legislated an official national language is often held up to project an ethos of multilingual
inclusivity. Yet, the idealized language ideologies of the modern day remain particularly relevant to perceptions of who is, or is
not, considered “American.” As in the past, even full assimilation to English monolingualism generally grants unquestioned citizen
status only to those perceived to be white, while people of color often retain the status of “perpetual foreigner” in U.S. racial
discourse (Ng et al., 2007). For the latter populations, English monolingualism is no guarantee against an onslaught of commentary
on speaking English “so well” (Tsuda, 2014), being “so articulate” (Alim & Smitherman, 2012), or questions of “where are you
from/really from/your family from”—questions comedian and filmmaker Hari Kondabolu (2011) distilled down to “Hey, why aren’t
you white?” Indeed, as Rosa and Flores (2017) discussed through their framework of raciolinguistics, “the linguistic practices of
racialized populations are systematically stigmatized regardless of the extent to which these practices might seem to correspond
to standardized norms” (p. 623.). The racialized components of idealized language ideologies have even been shown to drive
accent hallucination, the perception of a “foreign” accent when listening to a speaker of color, regardless of whether any such
accent exists (Fought, 2006; Rubin, 1992). Idealized language ideologies, therefore, not only construct a default norm of idealized
English monolingualism but also intersect with the presumption of a default “American” race in whiteness (Pérez & Enciso, 2017;
Schwartz, & Boovy, 2017). These ideologies, in turn, influence whose language practices are considered legitimate, acceptable, or
“standard” American language practices.
Thus, analyzing the connections between language, race, nationality, and institutional interests continues to be necessary for
understanding idealized language ideologies in current contexts. Although U.S. society generally purports to condemn public
displays of overt racism (Ladson-Billings, 1998; López, 2015), exceptions are often made for anti-immigrant sentiment (Suárez-
Orozco & Suárez-Orozco, 2009) or discrimination based on language practices (Baker-Bell, 2020; Godley et al., 2015; Matsuda &
Duran, 2013)—both often framed as more palatable, or plausibly deniable, forms of racism. Thus, in a time of what Bonilla-Silva
(2003/2018) described as an age of racism without racists, language, and its connection to perceived national origin and
citizenship status, has become a key proxy for institutionalized discrimination, and racial profiling in U.S. contexts (Allard, 2015;
Stack, 2019; Viesca, 2013).
Despite the recent spike in demand for bilingual education programming (Medina, 2016), it is estimated that only 3% of the
nation’s students are enrolled in bilingual or dual-language education programs (Goldenberg & Wagner, 2015). The overwhelming
majority of U.S. students continue to receive monolingual English instruction through explicit or de facto English-only education
policies (García & Kleifgen, 2018; Hinton, 2016). Similarly, while there has been a recent rise in the popularity of dual-language
education programs in the nation as a whole (Lindholm-Leary, 2012), at the local level, it becomes clear that much of this growth
results from the popularization of such programs among the white, monolingual students of the middle and upper class in what
Valdez et al. (2016) dubbed “the gentrification of Dual Language education” (p. 601).
This is the paradox in which the so-called New Bilingualism has blossomed as a phenomenon of fascination in educational research
and practice. To some observers, there appears to be a growing recognition of the limitations of monolingual language ideologies
and a realization of the broader societal benefits of bilingualism. Certain policy changes seem to suggest an erosion of monolingual
hegemony: English-only education laws dismantled in California (2016) and Massachusetts (2018); the rising popularity of dual-
language programming (Boyle et al., 2015); and a growing number of states hastening to award biliteracy seals (Heineke & Davin,
2020). At the same time, questions of who benefits from these changes remain, particularly in terms of who is able to access to
bilingual programming (Katznelson & Bernstein, 2017; Subtirelu et al., 2019; Valdez et al., 2016) and how the value of bilingual
education can be recognized when the nation’s standardized tests continue to assess students exclusively in English (García &
Even within the increasingly popularized dual-language program models, classroom-based research has documented such programs
disproportionately catering to the needs of English-dominant student populations, often at the expense of bilingual youth of color
(Valdés, 2018). As Cervantes-Soon et al. (2020) noted, “In theory, [two-way immersion] integrates English speakers and speakers of
a minoritized language to promote [dual-language] goals for all. In practice, language-minoritized youth are often treated as
‘resources’ for white children” (p. 2). Even students who had largely positive experiences in their dual-language programs
recognize the racialized lens through which their bilingualism is perceived. As one Latinx graduate of a dual-language program said
in regard to his earning of a biliteracy seal, “[Everyone assumes] this is what you should have been doing anyway as a Mexican
student, whereas white awardees would hear, ‘Look at them. They went out of their way to learn another language and to be
immersed in this culture. . . . Good for them’” (Colomer & Chang-Bacon, 2020, p. 385).
Framing Idealized Language Ideologies
Today, with popular research on the cognitive, social, and economic benefits of bilingualism (e.g., Bialystok, 2011), and
educational institutions capitalizing on bilingualism as a recruitment strategy (Flores & García, 2017; Katznelson & Bernstein,
2017), it is possible to argue that the idealized language practice is no longer English monolingualism, but has shifted to idealize
bilingualism. Again, if one views the notion of a New Bilingualism through an exclusive focus on past monolingual policies, there
does indeed seem reason for cautious optimism—a seeming transcendence of consistently restrictive language policies coming to a
head in the modern day. However, through a framework that examines which language practices are idealized for which
populations in regard to which institutional interests, the New Bilingualism is revealed as less of a transformation and more of a
continuation. By examining who has access to the New Bilingualism (and for whom bilingualism is indeed “new”), much of the
educational programming associated with the New Bilingualism appears to be designed in ways that disproportionally benefit
monolingual English speakers—most often of the white middle class. Rather than being new, such privileging suggests that this New
Bilingualism may be more accurately described as a resurgence of early colonial language policies—with bilingualism
accommodated, celebrated, and constructed as a benefit for some. Framing these trends against a historical backdrop of a
continent that has always been a site of contested multilingualism demonstrates the continuity with which idealized language
ideologies have played a key role in shaping educational policies and practice, and who stands to benefit from them.
CONCLUSION: IMPLICATIONS FOR EDUCATORS AND INDIVIDUAL/COLLECTIVE AGENCY
The framework of idealized language ideologies described throughout this article brings the notion of a New Bilingualism into
conversation with the old monolingualism that it is supposed to supplant. The three components of this framework—(1) idealized
language practices, (2) the idealized speaker, and (3) institutional interests—help explain why “new,” promising trends in bilingual
education may continue to reproduce the old educational inequities that have impacted bilingual students, particularly students of
color, for generations. When the production of these dynamics is brought to light across multiple periods of U.S. history, it
becomes much less surprising—almost predictable—that programming designed to benefit minoritized populations is appropriated
to further advantage privileged populations. As demonstrated throughout this piece, educational policies and practices that
overlook the dynamics of idealized language ideologies are all but guaranteed to disproportionately benefit some populations over
others, often along existing lines of racial, educational, and economic privilege.
Although societal institutions and power dynamics continue to exert substantial influence on the reproduction of idealized
language ideologies, what has not been discussed at length in this piece is the power of individual and collective agency in
upholding or resisting idealized language ideologies (see Figure 2). The enduring vitality of multilingual language practices on the
North American continent, as well as across the globe, cannot be explained entirely by dominant institutional interests. Instead,
this continuity must also be credited to individual choices, community advocacy, and collective opposition to linguistic erasure and
assimilationism (Irvine et al., 2009; Spring, 2016). In this way, while idealized language ideologies have major impacts on
education and on broader U.S. society, these impacts are not inevitable. Teachers, communities, and individual students exercise
power in deciding whether to accept, reproduce, or dismantle idealized language ideologies. Reckoning with the history through
which these ideologies have been both maintained and resisted demonstrates the enduring importance of individual and collective
Figure 2. Idealized language ideologies framework with individual and collective agency
As with other historical periods documented in this piece, education plays a key role in reinforcing or disrupting idealized language
ideologies and the linguistic hierarchies produced therein. Thus, it is imperative that teachers, teacher educators, and educational
policy makers bring awareness of these dynamics to discussions of language program models and how various language practices
are valued in the classroom. For schools and districts seeking to implement the promising range of bilingual educational options
available today or to reexamine existing programs and classroom practices, these discussions might highlight questions such as: (1)
Who does our program aim to serve? (2) Who has access? (3) Whose language practices does our program idealize and why? (4) How
might this idealization unintentionally reproduce institutional inequities, and how might we address this?
Such questions must examine how the New Bilingualism reinforces the historical production of idealized language ideologies,
without forgetting the hard-won victories and well-intentioned struggles for broader recognition and valuation of linguistic
diversity. This momentum must be maintained. However, the field must be cautious to prevent the notion of a New Bilingualism
from simply reproducing the old educational inequalities. In this regard, educators and educational researchers have a key role to
play in shaping these outcomes by challenging and disrupting idealized language ideologies across educational programming and
1. For the purposes of this piece, I bound my analysis to the language dynamics of the United States and its specific
historical context. Similar ideological dynamics play out in other nations, albeit in different ways, as mediated by a host
of contextual factors. Though there is not space to address these global linguistic dynamics within this piece, further
scholarship that explores how the language ideological dynamics I explore in U.S. contexts map onto other countries or
contexts can provide important insights for our field.
2. Importantly, the “-ized” suffix marks this as a socially constructed, ideological practice rather than signifying any
ideology, language practice, or individual as actually being “ideal.”
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Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 123 Number 1, 2021, p. -
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 23558, Date Accessed: 1/15/2021 7:37:59 AM
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