Official English for Nevada

By D. Dowd Muska
  • Tuesday, May 20, 1997

A bill recently introduced in the Nevada Legislature would make English the state’s official language. Assembly Bill 441, sponsored by 12 members, designates English as the official language of the state and contains a number of related provisions.

The Theory Behind Official English

According to U.S. English — a citizen group working to make English the official language at all governmental levels — at least 329 languages are currently spoken in the United States. (Including Achumawi, Lapp, Mon-Khmer, Slovak and Zuni.) America’s great diversity is an asset to the nation, but in recent years local, state and federal government agencies have been strained by ever-increasing duplication of government services in multiple languages. According to U.S. English, the proliferation of multi-lingual government sends this dangerous message to immigrants: "It is not necessary to learn English because the government will accommodate them in other languages. As a result, immigrants fail to learn English and separate into linguistic enclaves. This division of the United States into separate language groups contributes to racial and ethnic conflicts." Official English helps to curb ethnic strife by promoting unity. It also streamlines government and cuts costs. An official English requirement simplifies government operations because it gives bureaucrats clear guidelines for their actions. "We’re not suggesting that people shouldn’t hold on to their native languages," wrote U.S. English Chairman Mauro E. Mujica. "We just don’t believe the government should spend money providing services in multiple languages."

Broad Public Support

Opponents of official English claim such laws violate the right of free speech, but courts have repeatedly upheld the constitutionality of official English laws. The general public agrees — in August of 1995, a Luntz Research poll revealed broad support for the establishment of English as the official language for the United States. Eighty-six percent of respondents answered affirmatively to the question "Do you think English should be made the official language of the United States?" Support for official English crossed racial lines, with 89 percent of whites and 86 percent of blacks voicing approval. Support for official English also enjoyed bipartisan support: 90 percent of Republicans, 84 percent of Democrats and 83 percent of Independents approved. U.S. English, the country’s largest official English citizen group, currently claims over one million members. Official English legislation has been passed in 23 states, most recently in Wyoming, Georgia and Virginia. Florida’s official English proposition passed with 84 percent support, and Nevada’s neighbor California, the most ethnically-diverse state in the nation, passed its law with a 73 percent approval rate. Arizona’s 1988 official English statute was challenged all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, but in March of this year, the High Court unanimously upheld Arizona’s law.

The Nevada Bill

A.B. 441 amends Nevada statutes to designate English as the official language of the state of Nevada. It mandates that all proceedings of the state must be conducted in English, all official records of the state must be "prepared, stored, and made available" in English and all official publications must be published in English. The bill contains a number of important exemptions, including state business conducted orally, foreign language classes, instruction of students "whose proficiency in the English language is limited," situations when excessive use of the English language would "interfere with public health or safety," and the promotion of international trade or tourism by an agent of the state. A.B. 441 requires state agencies to record each expenditure made "to provide services in a language other than English." Foreign-language expenditures "must be set forth separately in the budget estimates" of each agency. The bill also bars any Nevada court from hearing a legal claim against the state based solely on failure "to provide copies of statutes, regulations, reports, forms, or other documents" in a non-English language.


While Nevada public records and proceedings are all currently conducted or published in English, the state’s rapid population growth will almost certainly generate pressure by some to accommodate newcomers by conducting state business in different languages. A.B. 441 would ensure that state proceedings are conducted in a uniform language, saving taxpayer dollars and hastening the assimilation of non-English speaking immigrants. The bill does not ban bilingual education or "common sense" use of foreign languages in state business. It does not restrict or outlaw private citizens from using a separate dialect in their businesses, homes or during religious ceremonies. If enacted, A.B. 441 would simply prevent the creation of "linguistic welfare" in the Silver State.

States with Official English Laws

  • Alabama (1990)
  • Arizona (1988)
  • Arkansas (1987)
  • California (1986)
  • Colorado (1988)
  • Florida (1988)
  • Georgia (1986, 1996)
  • Hawaii (1978)
  • Illinois (1969)
  • Indiana (1984)
  • Kentucky (1984)
  • Louisiana (1811)
  • Mississippi (1987)
  • Montana (1995)
  • Nebraska (1920)
  • New Hampshire (1995)
  • North Carolina (1987)
  • North Dakota (1987)
  • South Carolina (1987)
  • South Dakota (1995)
  • Tennessee (1984)
  • Virginia (1981, 1996)
  • Wyoming (1996)

D. Dowd Muska is a research analyst at NPRI.

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