Don't Speak The Enemy's Language! The Four Freedoms Are Not In His Vocabulary. Speak American!

Wikimedia commons entry, claiming a citation to "Una Storia Segreta" by Lawrence Distasi. The licensing metadata from the picture claims that it is a "work prepared by an officer or employee of the United States Government as part of that person’s official duties".

Don't Speak The Enemy's Language! The Four Freedoms Are Not In His Vocabulary. Speak American!

Source (Replica sales website)

Were there World War II propaganda posters in the United States telling people not to speak German, Italian or Japanese, and to "Speak American"?

  • 1
    Are you looking for an answer from an office publication stand point from an organization like the OWI or any organization? For some reason I think that all of the official publications at the time had a byline which could point to the origin of these.
    – rjzii
    Feb 10, 2014 at 3:14
  • 2
    Rob's right. If these were official US government publications there'd have been a section at the bottom listing the agency and release authority. If produced by a private party under contract or license, similar credits would appear.
    – jwenting
    Feb 10, 2014 at 10:04
  • 1
    Seems like this would be easy to verify by getting a copy of Distasi's book, which hopefully would credit the original source. So it should be more a job for a librarian than for this site. Feb 10, 2014 at 21:47
  • 1
    I was trying to delete stuff from my computer and I see I have a page from the 01 December 1942 Honolulu Advertiser newspaper with the first "poster" printed in the bottom right corner. I tried to add the whole page to my answer, but got file too large message. Anyway, it might not have been a poster, but it was definitely a wartime newspaper ad.
    – DavePhD
    Mar 9, 2023 at 20:41
  • now I added the lower right part of the newspaper page (page 8). It is available from newspapers.com but I don't have a subscription now.
    – DavePhD
    Mar 10, 2023 at 13:07

2 Answers 2


According to Cane Fires: The Anti-Japanese Movement in Hawaii, 1865-1945:

The Speak American Campaign was launched on October 12, 1942, with much fanfare in the white press. The Service Committee distributed and displayed posters and stickers admonishing the Japanese to "speak American," and committee members held community meetings to organize English-language classes for adults. In a radio address, Shigeo Yoshida explained the need to "speak American".

The war-time article Speak American by Shigeo Yoshida, principal Ala Maana School, can be found at that Hawaii Educational Review link:

THE "Speak American" campaign sponsored by the Emergency Service Committee has the endorsement and cooperation of military and civilian leaders. It is worthy of the support of all who need the admonition to "Speak American" or who are in a position to help such people learn and use the language of America. The idea of speaking English is not new. The schools and other educational agencies have been working on it for years. It is particularly important in Hawaii where we have many large groups of foreign-language-speaking people...

If this were Japan, which it is not and we know it will never be, the use of the English language would certainly not be tolerated as the use of the Japanese language has been here. That is one of the differences between the American and the Japanese ways of life. But we should not take advantage of the tolerance which is part of America by using the language of the enemy in situations where its use is not desirable or absolutely necessary...

I wish to mention one other reason for urging the use of English. We think in the language we speak. I believe it is more important than ever that we in Hawaii not only speak but think in the language of America. Our slogan might be: "Speak, think and act American." ...

And Shigeo Yoshida was correct, this was not new.

In the June 1920 Popular Educator, Vol. 37, there are photographs of posters:

One reads:




Another poster has 3 children holding cards saying "Be American", "Think American", "Speak American".

The journal Primary Education November 1919, page 604 has a list Slogans for Better American Speech Week with patriotic and more general suggested slogans including:

Speak the language of your flag.
American Speech means American Loyalty
The American Flag, The American Home, The American Language
American Speech for American People
Be patriotic in thought, in deed, in speech
American Speech means American unity

Daughters of the American Revolution Magazine, Volume 54 says that between February 1919 and February 1920:

We also had posters printed containing the words, " Speak American." These are to be hung in public places.

Below is a poster as published in the 15 December 1918 Chicago Daily News

enter image description here:


See also the 19 January 1941 Chicago Tribune NW edition, part 3, page 1 article Parks Sponsor New Lessons in American Way

new campaign to "Act American; Speak American; Be American"

As far as the first "poster" in the OP, an Italian History Society link indicates in was provided by the Center of Military History.

A thesis gives a different source:

HWRD Scrapbooks. (Blackout, Rumors and Propaganda, Camouflage 1942 February- 1945 July 23, Folder 1)

where "HWRD" means Hawaii War Records Depository

The image is an advertisement at the bottom right corner of page 8 of the 01 December 1942 Honolulu Advertiser:

enter image description here


The book "Our House Divided: Seven Japanese American Families in World War II" by Tomi Kaizawa Knaefler, published in 1991, had the following:

The government posters said, "Speak American. Don't Speak the Enemy's Language." So I frustrated my mother terribly by speaking English to her, disregarding the fact that she, like the other issei, communicated primarily in Japanese.

Which suggest that there were some posters out there with the message of speaking American. Not necessarily those two photos, but they did exist.

However, it's possible that the second photo is fake.

http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Commons:Deletion_requests/File:Speak_American_WWII.jpg is a deletion request for a supposed poster saying "Speak American":

Appears to be a modern commercial recreation (I see it's being sold as a metal sign, for example), and it's not just a direct copy of a WWII era US government poster, so not PD Afiler (talk) 23:19, 24 November 2011 (UTC)


To maybe slightly better answer your question, the typeface used is a modern computer typeface, and the caricatures seen there are an entirely different drawing as in the blurry image above. The bottom line is that there's no evidence at all that this is a US government work, only that it uses the same "Speak American" text as a poster reproduced in book that claims it's a US government work. - Afiler (talk) 11:22, 26 November 2011 (UTC)

The second photo in the question was being sold as a metal sign, so it's quite possibly referring to that photo.

  • second photo does indeed seem to be of a metal sign, with rounded corners and holes punched in the corners...
    – jwenting
    Feb 11, 2014 at 8:00

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