Committee for Human Rights

Census and Linguistic Isolation

On January 5, AAA President Virginia Dominguez, sent a letter to the US Census Bureau, concerning the agency's use of the term linguisticall isolated." Both a full text and *.pdf version of the letter are available below.


January 5, 2011

David S. Johnson, Division Chief
Housing and Household Economic Statistics
U.S. Census Bureau
4600 Silver Hill Road
Washington, DC 20233

Dear Mr. Johnson,

Thank you for your Dec 22, 2010 response to our May 27, 2010 letter concerning the Census Bureau’s use of the term “linguistically isolated.” Speaking on behalf of the Association and its Task Group on Language and Social Justice, I am very encouraged to learn that you have been considering alternatives to this inaccurate classification, and hope that the elimination of this term will be implemented in next year’s data cycle.

Thanks to your clarification, we understand that you need to inform public officials, as well as the general public, about the level of English ability in U.S. households, based on the English language proficiency question, and the four categories offered to individuals for self-classification: Very well, Well, Not Well, Not at All. We thus endorse the solution you propose, which is simply to replace the term "linguistically isolated" with "households in which no one age 14 or above speaks English Only or Very Well." This does not imply a new interpretation of the data, and is crystal clear; for these reasons, it would seem to be readily implementable without issuing a Federal Register Notice for public input.

The language experts in the AAA Task Group on Language and Social Justice also agree that if you need to refer to this group in contrast to the households that include individuals who speak English Very Well, the term Limited-English Households is less stigmatizing than “linguistically isolated.” We also welcome your efforts to conduct empirical research on the appropriate cut-off point at which to determine if, in fact, a household should be categorized at Limited-English if it includes anyone who speaks English “Well.” As a discipline and as an organization, we are committed to all measures that provide needed English-language assistance.

We hope that the Census Bureau will be able to implement the labeling changes you have suggested and we have endorsed.  Please do not hesitate to contact us if you need further clarification of the points we have made in our 2007 resolution and in the correspondence we have had on this issue since 2008.  

Our primary concern is the inaccuracy of “linguistic isolation” as a category, and the importance of eliminating that term from all ACS and Census Bureau reports.

Yours truly,

 

Virginia R. Dominguez

President

American Anthropological Association

 

A *.pdf version of the letter is available here.