Legal Status of official English in Alaska

Alaska allows referenda and voter initiatives to pass new statutes. In 1998, Alaska voters passed this official English law by a 69 percent margin.  A lawsuit was filed to block the law and in 1999, a Superior Court Judge issued an injunction stopping it from taking effect.  In 2002, the judge voided  the entire law by ruling  it  violated the free speech clause of the Alaska Constitution. The state refused to appeal.  But the group that had sponsored the initiative, Alaskans for a Common Language appealed and in 2007, the State Supreme Court overturned the lower court and upheld most of the law as constitutional. The court, however, struck down the first sentence of the Official English Initiative (Section 3) saying it violated constitutionally protected speech. The rest of  Section 3 was upheld. It reads:

“The English language shall be used in the preparation of all official public documents and records, including all documents officially compiled, published or recorded by the government.”

Official English Law in Alaska


Section 1. Findings and Purpose
The people of the State of Alaska find that English is the common unifying language of the State of Alaska and the United States of America, and declare a compelling interest in promoting, preserving and strengthening its use.

Section 2. Official Language
The English language is the official language of the State of Alaska.

Section 3. Scope
The English language is the language to be used by all public agencies in all government functions and actions. The English language shall be used in the preparation of all official public documents and records, including all documents officially compiled, published or recorded by the government.

Section 4. Applicability
This Act applies to the legislative and executive branches of the State of Alaska and all political subdivisions, including all departments, agencies, divisions and instrumentalities of the State, the University of Alaska, all public authorities and corporations, all local governments and departments, agencies, divisions, and instrumentalities of local governments, and all government officers and employees.

Section 5. Exceptions
The government, as defined in Section 4 of this Act, may use a language other than English when necessary for the following purposes:

  • (1) to communicate health and safety information or when an emergency requires the use of a language other than English,
  • (2) to teach another language to students proficient in English,
  • (3) to teach English to students of limited English proficiency,
  • (4) to promote international relations, trade, commerce, tourism or sporting events,
  • (5) to protect the constitutional and legal rights of criminal defendants,
  • (6) to serve the needs of the judicial system in civil and criminal cases in compliance with court rules and orders,
  • (7) to investigate criminal activity and protect the rights of crime victims,
  • (8) to the extent necessary to comply with federal law, including the Native American Languages Act,
  • (9) to attend or observe religious ceremonies,
  • (10) to use non-English terms of art, names, phrases, or expressions included as part of communications otherwise in English, and
  • (11) to communicate orally with constituents by elected public officials and their staffs, if the public official or staff member is already proficient in a language other than English.

Section 6. Public Accountability
All costs related to the preparation, translation, printing, or recording of documents, records, brochures, pamphlets, flyers, or other material in languages other than English shall be defined as a separate line item in the budget of every governmental agency, department or office.

Section 7. Non-Denial of Employment or Services

  • (1) No governmental entity shall require knowledge of a language other than English as a condition of employment unless the requirements of the position fall within one of the exceptions provided in Section 5 of this Act, and facility in another language is a bona fide job qualification required to fulfill a function included within one of the exceptions.
  • (2) No person may be denied services, assistance, benefits, or facilities, directly or indirectly provided by the government, because that person communicates only in English.

Section 8. Private Sector Excluded
This Act shall not be construed in any way that infringes upon the rights of persons to use languages other than English in activities or functions conducted solely in the private sector, and the government may not restrict the use of language other than English in such private activities or functions.

Section 9. Private Cause of Action Authorized
Any person may bring suit against any governmental entity to enforce the provisions of this Act.

Section 10. Severability
The provisions of this Act are independent and severable, and if any provision of this Act, or the applicability of any provision to any person or circumstance, shall be held to be invalid by a court of competent jurisdiction, the remainder of this Act shall not be affected and shall be given effect to the fullest extent practicable.


496,982 English
82,758 All languages other than English combined
30,121 Other Native North American languages
16,674 Spanish or Spanish Creole
8,934 Tagalog
4,369 Korean
3,574 German
2,952 Russian
2,197 French (incl. Patois, Cajun)
1,392 Japanese
1,295 Chinese
1,137 Laotian
756 Vietnamese
742 Thai
701 Scandinavian languages
518 Italian
496 Polish
454 Miao, Hmong
264 Serbo-Croatian
221 African languages
215 Hebrew
188 Arabic
187 Portuguese or Portuguese Creole
126 Greek
126 Mon-Khmer, Cambodian
108 Urdu
92 Persian
77 Hungarian
76 Hindi
71 French Creole
45 Yiddish
44 Navajo
32 Armenian
0 Gujarathi