Friday, April 15, 2005

Making English the Official Language

It seems that certain legislators in West Virginia surreptitiously inserted language in a bill that made English the official language of that state. That will amuse some who aren't actually sure English is spoken there.

I should apologize for my mean-spirited assault on the dialects that are found in West Virginia, but I am ticked off. First it ticks me off when legislators who can't win battles on the floor stick bits of legislation into bills that they know their compatriots will not carefully read before final passage. It is a very dishonest practice. Second, making English the official language of a state is an offensive, and to my way of thinking, un-American practice.

Years ago, when Florida was debating such a bill, right wing politician/commentator Pat Buchanan said on The McLaughlin Group that the bill was an anti-Catholic and anti-Hispanic piece of legislation. This admission was remarkable since it was primarily people from the Republican party of which he was at least nominally a member who were promoting the bill.

There are various reasons given for supporting legislation making English the official language.

    One James Crawford cites the following as possible reasons
  • Citizens who want to preserve our common language and avoid ethnic strife
  • Bigots seeking to roll back civil rights advances for language-minority groups
  • Conservatives hoping to impose a sense of national unity and civic responsibility
  • Liberals who fear that bilingual education and bilingual voting discourage assimilation
  • Nativists trying to fan animosity toward immigrants and build support for tighter quotas
  • Euro-ethnics who resent "unfair advantages" enjoyed by Hispanics and Asians today
  • Politicians attempting to exploit a national mood of isolationism and xenophobia
  • Racists who equate multiculturalism and ethnic separatism
  • Americans who feel threatened by diversity, among other unsetting changes
  • All of the above
US House Republicans have stated
The use of English is indispensable to immigrants and their children who wish to participate fully in American society and realize the American Dream. As we seek to promote the rich and varied traditions new Americans bring, we must simultaneously work to insure that all of us share some basis for common understanding. Securing both these important goals requires overcoming the divisive influence of linguistic separatism. English should be and remain the official language of our national government.
In fact, while English is the de facto official language of this country, no federal legislation has ever been passed to establish this officially.

House Republicans seem not to appreciate that the use of Spanish in Hispanic neighborhoods is indispensible to Hispanics and their children who wish to participate fully in Hispanic-American society, if I may paraphrase their language. Hispanics constitute our second largest ethic community and it is estimated that by July 1, 2050, Hispanics will constitute 24% of the American population. Twenty-nine million speak Spanish at home. It is this latter fact that is most important.

Spanish is critical to the self-images of those who speak it as their "mother tongue." The same is true of English to those who speak it as their "mother tongue." Legislation such as has been passed in West Virginia constitutes a slap in the face to the Spanish language, officially relegating to second class status, as well as to Hispanic culture.

It is ironic that the party that most distrusts government and which fights to get or keep government out of our every day affairs shows no reluctance whatever to using government as an instument of social engineering -- in fact, of social oppression -- provided it is applied to Hispanics, not members of the privledged English-only social class. Republicans would do better to recognize that Spanish is not going to go away any sooner than are the various regional dialects of English, even when they are stigmatized, as is true of some dialects of West Virginia, and move to make the US into a bilingual country. A benefit of this is that all Americans will be able to communicate with each other and that includes Americans south of the boarder who live in Central and South America.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

This whole piece of legislation is self-defeating. All my married friends with kids (the smart ones at least) are rushing to enroll their kids in "dual-immersion" programs where they learn Spanish as well as English. Frankly, in about 20 years, there will be two groups of people in the US: Those who can speak Spanish, and those who can't, and the ones who can't will be fetching coffee for their bosses who do speak Spanish. People in the Southwest and Florida have been using Spanish for centuries and that's not changing, and just about every company now does gazillions in business with Latin America. You just have to know the language there, period, to get ahead.

3:51 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

The bill has not passed, Governor Joe Manchin vetoed the bill, but only due to technical flaws.

read : http://www.babelport.com/news/readnews.php?id=333

3:27 AM

Blogger Christian said...

I'm pleased this bill hasn't passed. I'm from Virginia (not W.V.) but I am concerned that W.V. is decreasing in population. They could do a lot worse than immigrants, and passing a bill like this certainly isn't going to help.

Whether Spanish skills will be essential in the future, I'm not sure. I think English speakers and Spanish speakers will meet imbetween, not on one side or the other.

8:18 PM

Blogger WV Girl said...

I totally agree with said bill, and am disappointed that it wasn't passed.
I feel that all US citizens should learn to speak English. If I moved to Germany I would be expected to learn German. There's nothing racist about it. It just makes sense.

4:47 PM

Blogger The Language Guy said...

You're picking Germany as your example is perhaps unintentionally very funny. Germany does not allow its foreign workers to become German citizens (racism at work) and so the issue doesn't arise. You need to find a country that is highly multi-racial, multi-ethnic, and multi-linguistic enough to be a good comparison. There isn't one, of course.

6:07 PM

Blogger American said...

This is still an English speaking country basically.. Why should we learn to speak Spanish because some want hispanics to have a pleasant hispanic/American experience?
This debate is rediculous. Have THEM learn English and we can all have a pleasant AMERICAN experience..
I get the impression that we are the only country in the world that has determined everything we do is wrong, so lets just do whatever anyone else wants us to do..
What about the "American Culture."..That includes all races and ethnicities right? It also includes English!
Do you remember Latin? That was the international language once and now it is basically dead. Is that where you want English to go?
Yes, by all means, lets go out and everyone learn Spanish and they can continue to speak Spanish, and everyone can speak Spanish yada, yada, yada..
Let's keep speaking English so we can have a pleasant English speaking American
25% speak Spanish at home? So what? I assume 75% approximately speak English? Isn't it easier for 25 % to learn English than 75% to learn Spanish?

6:36 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

@last commenter:

The 25% are probably stubborn and won’t rush to learn english because its their god-give right to speak their own language, which is fine. Except that they then expect us to go and spend time learning a language using language learning software or the like to learn their spanish language.

And unfortunatly the 25% will in through in the end. As a commentor before you points out, there will be people that speak spanish and those that don’t. And the ones that do speak spanish will be higher paid due to being a more skilled workforce. As a pretty big example, take a look at the uptake of computers in the workplace and how generally people that don’t or can’t use a computer are paid less than those you who and can will operate them as part of their job.

7:03 AM

Blogger amv215 said...

I cannot agree more that this law in WV is absolutely ridiculous. If the Republican Party doesn't want to regulate everyone's life, then why are they passing such laws as these??!! I, for one, do speak Spanish. My father is a native of Chile and he immigrated to the US as a student in 1978. He met my mother, who is from Augusta, GA, and stayed in the US. I see nothing wrong with allowing people to speak whatever language they choose. I do agree that it is fundamental for people to speak English if they want to leave in this country; however, that is up to them to learn it. That is why I help teach English to immigrant adults--so they can learn it one step at a time--and so I can further my Spanish at the same time. I do agree that speaking English is necessary when living in the U.S., but it is not our responsibility to FORCE anybody to learn it, just like nobody is going to FORCE you to learn how to speak Spanish.

1:28 PM

Blogger amv215 said...

if they want to live* in this country, not leave...lol

1:29 PM

Blogger Bryce Wesley Merkl said...

Very interesting blog. I definitely don't think that making anything the "official" language will solve long-term problems.

Just as a side note, here is a great site in/on the English language that you might enjoy:

English wiki browser

8:15 PM


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