Language and Societies

ANT/LIN 5320 at Wayne State University

Indigenous Language and Assimilation: Navajo and the Workplace

Indigenous Language and Assimilation: Navajo and the Workplace

Kimberly Anne Shay

This paper examines the relationship between the Navajo language and English-only policies in the workplace in the southwestern United States. While much has been discussed on the national stage about immigration issues and assimilation of immigrant populations, little has been addressed about the indigenous populations and workplace language policies. This subject is examined from both a historic and a contemporary perspective. Historically, Native American languages and the Navajo language specifically have been the subject of repressive language policies. In contemporary society, one of the manifestations of this course of action is English-only policies in the workplace in regard to the Navajo language.  The policies of language restriction in the United States are historically documented and English–only policies are currently legal case law in many states. The leads to the question of how English-only policies are being enforced in the workplace in relation to the Navajo language and what are the legal and social ramifications of such policies for both the Navajo population and the English-only advocates.  The methods used include providing an overview of current federal laws concerning English-only policies in the workplace and documented employer rational for these laws. This issue is then examined using specific cases, provided by newspapers and other sources, of Navajo language usage in the workplace resulting in loss of employment, as well as subsequent Navajo and employer reactions to these specific cases. The result of this examination is that oppressive English-only language policies are found to be detrimental to Navajo language users and the Navajo population in general in relation to the workplace.

Keywords: indigenous language policy, Navajo language, English-only policies, language restriction

April 15, 2013 - Posted by | abstract


  1. Fascinating topic, I would love to read your paper! I will be interested to see the “employer rational” for English-only policies…

    Comment by Kelsey | April 19, 2013 | Reply

  2. This sounds like an ACLU class-action suit waiting to happen. These policies are detrimental not only to individuals and to indivenous populations, but to the very American notion of a pluralistic society. We are diminished as a people. And Navajo, off all languages! Anyone remotely familiar with WWII cryptography knows that they were the equivalent of the life-saving pharmaceutical that you preserve for posterity by NOT wiping out the rainforest.

    Comment by Dan | April 19, 2013 | Reply

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