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  • Print publication year: 2019
  • Online publication date: July 2019

6 - Measured Multilingualism

from Part II - The United States Context


Since their widespread adoption in the nineteenth century, censuses have played both bureaucratic and ideological roles, as the classification of the population according to social and cultural characteristics facilitated the development of the administrative infrastructure required by emergent nation-states and the definition of national and group identity categories officialized particular ways of understanding difference. This chapter critically analyzes the questions about language asked by Statistics Canada and the US Census Bureau. I examine the relationship of language data to various policies in the two countries, as well as the ways that those policies, and specific ways of asking about language, reflect and reproduce particular ideologies of language. In addition to revealing differing perspectives on individual and societal multilingualism, this analysis demonstrates that census language statistics do not simply serve as "facts" undergirding policy, but instead produce particular representations of linguistic diversity and, thus, constitute official discourses on multilingualism.