English; designating as official language of State. (HB55)

Introduced By

Del. Scott Lingamfelter (R-Woodbridge) with support from co-patrons Del. Tommy Wright (R-Victoria), and Sen. Frank Ruff (R-Clarksville)


Passed Committee
Passed House
Passed Senate
Signed by Governor
Became Law


English as the official language of the Commonwealth. States that, except as provided by federal law, English is the official language of the Commonwealth, and no state agency or local government shall provide or otherwise assist in providing any documents, information, literature, or other written materials in any language other than English. The bill provides exceptions to this general rule for any documents, information, literature, or other written materials in a language other than English used in connection with foreign language instruction, administration of justice in the courts of the Commonwealth, law-enforcement purposes, or the provision of health care services. Read the Bill »


Bill Has Failed


12/05/2007Prefiled and ordered printed; offered 01/09/08 081753600
12/05/2007Referred to Committee on Rules
01/22/2008Impact statement from DPB (HB55)
02/05/2008Continued to 2009 in Rules


Craig writes:

I have no problem with Virginia having an official language (namely English). I do however think that the provisions in this bill that would prevent government at all levels from providing materials in languages other than English to be bigoted and simply ignorant. Not only would this be counter productive in helping immigrants assimilate, it is simply bad for business.

Greg writes:

We do a disservice to immigrants by encouraging them to remain a permanent underclass which cannot speak english, and vulnerable to fraud, abuse, and crime perpetrated by those who interact with the english world on their behalf. Few things are more precursors to success in this nation than the ability to speak our language.

If the barrier to obtaining government services is learning english, we will at least help ensure that folks who apply for them will be able to effectively engage in the labor market, and have a good chance to be productive contributors.

I've been overseas many times, and busted my butt to speak the language wherever I was to the best of my ability. It was a matter of simple respect. I never demanded that anyone accommodate my language in their country, and fail to see why supporting those demands here could ever be beneficial to those who it is supposed to benefit.

Bill Cosby castigated "ebonics" as a scheme to keep African-Americans in permanent underclass status, and was applauded. Will it have to take someone from Pakistan to tell Pakistanis that speaking only Urdu is a recipe for poverty? Or can we finally get past the notion that the only people who can suggest useful ideas to an ethnic community are the members of that community, and that everyone else is simply racist for encouraging assimilation and the benefits it provides?

Craig writes:

Greg, ok, let's forget immigrants. How about tourists? Wouldn't it be nice for us to produce signs and brochures for tourist sites in languages other than English? This bill is anti-immigrant at heart but will have wider reaching impacts on business and tourism in VA.

Philip Jones writes:

Has Craig travelled abroad? In most country's English is the official language for government and business.

Stop waving the "anti-illegal" flag and recognize one language unites a community.

Waldo Jaquith writes:

In most country's English is the official language for government and business.



No. This is absolutely false. Minus the U.S. and England, counting the nations of Oceania individually (which is very generous), there are 53 nations in which English is an (not the) official language. Most of these countries are Oceana, the Carribean, and Africa. Not Europe, not Asia, not South America. That's 53 out of the 245 sovereign states, or 22%.

Twenty two percent is not "most." A better word would be a "minority."

Rick Sincere writes:

Who defines what "English" is?

Let's take a very good example from legislative usage: In England (where they speak English), to "table" a bill means to consider it immediately. In the USA (where they speak English), to "table" a bill means to delay its consideration.

Which form of English becomes official?

CG2 Consulting, tracking this bill in Photosynthesis, notes:

As introduced this bill goes well beyond making English the official language of the Commonwealth (which has been the law since 1994) and moves Virginia toward being an English only state. As such, the bill clearly focuses on people whose first language is other than English, regardless of whether such individuals are citizens, international tourists or businesspeople or persons in the country without authority. The bill would bar the Virginia tourism agency from making literature available to international visitors in languages other than English, the Virginia Economic Development Partnership from producing information for international businesses in languages other than English and jeopardize federal funding for any federally funded program that is required to provide program access for persons with limited English proficiency.

This bill is not about whether someone is in the United States legally. Its effect clearly will be to send the message that Virginia does not want to be inclusive of people whose first language is other than English and whose proficiency in their second language is still developing.

Cathy writes:

The spirit of this bill is disturbing. By stating the policy, and then going on to detail its implementation, it is too much of an overreach for me to believe that it is anything but political posturing. It will die on the vine, and this guy pleases his xenophobic constituency in Northern Virginia. A win-win!

Philip Jones writes:

Waldo....most developed nations use ENGLISH as their official language. Slicing and dicing or facts does not make your statistic valid.

Waldo Jaquith writes:

most developed nations use ENGLISH as their official language.

Again, this is wrong. Very, very few nations use English as their official language. 55 use English as an official language, one of several. Here is a map of those nations.

Is it your assertion that this map includes "most developed nations"? If so, I hope you'll list all developed nations and indicate which have English as their one and only official language. I can save you the time, though: the list consists of the United Kingdom and Australia. It's mighty brief.

Philip Jones writes:

So Germany, Japan, and New Zealand are not developed?

Philip Jones writes:

I went to your source (Wikipedia) and found the following comments on the facts you stated:

"This article or section may contain original research or unverified claims.

Please improve the article by adding references. See the talk page for details. (October 2007)

The factual accuracy of this article is disputed.
Please see the relevant discussion on the talk page.

This article needs additional citations for verification."

Gerbera writes:

Philip, that's a standard comment on wiki when the person adding the info doesn't properly cite their source. It doesn't mean the data isn't correct, it means the contributor didn't include a link to the page where they found it.

Waldo Jaquith writes:

So Germany, Japan, and New Zealand are not developed?

Not one of those nations use English as their one and only official languages. All of them have multiple official languages, recognizing that they have citizens from a broad array of national spectrums.

You realize that's precisely the opposite of the argument that you're attempting to make here, don't you?

Tod writes:

Learning English is an important part of the assimilation process. What would be a better way to encorage someone to be part of our society than to have one unifiying language? This bill would encorage people to learn English.

Mary Steele writes:

English should be the official languange for VA and the U.S., for its legal residents. What ever happened to being proud to become an American citizen, it is definitely not a right!!

It is crucial to be able to read and write fluently. It can save your life or it can cost you your life in a medical emergency, during a traffic stop or countless other instances.

Mary Steele
Yorktown VA

Todd writes:

Forcing people to speak English in order to participate is...unamerican.

Waldo Jaquith writes:

This bill would encorage people to learn English.

It's difficult to overstate how strongly that people are already encouraged to learn to speak English. Having some spent time in other countries, I can attest to how baffling, alienating, and utterly shocking it can be to not speak a word of a country's dominant language. A piece of legislation isn't going to be any more encouraging than the great social pressure that exists already. You might as well pass a law that everybody has to be skinny; there'd be no point.

Want people to learn English? Wait a generation. The first generation has a hard time. They're adults, they have a hard time picking up a new languages. (How many languages do you speak?) But their children pick it up easily. That was as true for my Italian ancestors as it is for today's immigrants from Korea, Ethiopia, Serbia and Venezuela.

Marsha Maines writes:

While I do not have a problem with others speaking their native tongue, IN THIS COUNTRY, you need to speak 'ours'. The implementation of ONE language would save us TONS of $$$ in tax money!! WHY should our state agencies publish all materials in multiple languages? If you are a 'citizen' or 'native' US, you are the ONLY one's who should be able to access our tax-funded 'services' provided by our state. Poverty is becoming an American crises, for our Citizens. Why should our own government 'fund' an immigrant before a citizen?
Sick and tired of the bias in 'public services'...
I've witnessed Americans translating for non-english speakers, w/o ss cards, w/o alien cards apply for Social Services, while CITIZENS cannot even get an appointment or get arbitrarily denied services..Our Commonwealth is feeding everyone with a hand out except our own. Let's end it!!

Alanna Almeda writes:

Hopefully our elected officials are monitoring these comments to view the hysteria and non-sense being promulgated by some highly misinformed individuals.

Michael P., tracking this bill in Photosynthesis, notes:

Oppose. Prevents the Commonwealth or any subgovernment from producing materials other than in English, with certain exceptions (law enforcement and health care)

Michael Perkins writes:

The difference between the current immigrants and the previous waves (Irish, Italians, Germans, Poles, Slovaks, etc.) was that those waves were driven by some political or economic event, and the wave eventually stopped or slowed from that particular group. We're not having massive Irish immigration nowadays. 50 years later, the group has assimilated, and people don't complain about not speaking the language. With the current major immigrant population (hispanics), the wave has continued for decades. To a native, it looks like there's an immigrant population that defiantly refuses to learn English, ever. To the immigrants, the first generation generally does not pick up the language that well, maybe can speak some broken English, but the 2nd and 3rd generations definitely speak English and may even only speak the mother tongue poorly.

VA A., tracking this bill in Photosynthesis, notes:

VEA Opposed

Claire Gastanaga writes:

Read a bit about history of language policy in the U.S. here and get educated, http://www.languageandlaw.org/LANGRTS.HTM

The question presented by this bill is NOT whether English should be the official language in Virginia (it is and has been for more than a decade).

The question presented by this bill is whether it should be the law that Virginia ONLY conducts its business in English, making life difficult for international visitors and citizens with limited English proficiency alike.

The hubris in some of these comments (English is an official language in some other countries, so why should be accomodate them) amazes me. I know of no other country where some seek to make unilingualism a moral value. We should be seeking to move America into the global economy by expecting all of our children (like those of our competitors) to be bi-lingual if not multi-lingual rather than fiercely defending their right to remain, dare I say it, unilingual ugly Americans.

P.S. Contrary to the representations of some, the current generation of Latino and Asian immigrants are indistinguishable from earlier generations of immigrants in their willingness to learn English and their movement along the path to "assimilation." Here's one study that documents this fact, http://www.ailf.org/ipc/policy_reports_2002_embrace.asp
and another

Ryan Rinn writes:

I agree Claire. Thank you for providing these resources as well.

Ben T., tracking this bill in Photosynthesis, notes:

Xenophobic nonsense. Even from a business point of view, it makes no sense.

MB writes:

It always amuses me that those who are loudest about pushing English as an official language often seem to have bit of a problem with the language themselves.

superbad writes:

we should't have english our official language i say this because theres no good enough excuse!!!!

Sean of virginia beach writes:

i have to say that as a child I can recognize the fact that our Current foriegn policy gets us into trouble when we go abroad. Why make it any worse for the children who will travel tomarrow? (3rd grade, tierd of the british calling me a daft american) this would just make it harder for bilinguel students to show their talent and recieve a better paying job for paying atention in school.