Tuesday, April 19, 2005


Anonymous astutely observed in response to my last blog

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.

In some parts of the US, including especially Texas, speakers of English and Spanish who interact on a regular basis have created mixtures of English and Spanish that go by a variety of names such as Spanglish, Tex-Mex, Poco, as well as others. These mixtures have persisted for quite a long time. In fact, the odds are that they have existed from the first days of contact between English and Spanish speakers since there would have been a need for communication.

Throughout the world when people speaking different languages come into regular contact, often in the course of trade, pidgin languages emerge that have a highly simplified syntax -- rigid subject-verb-object word order, invariant word forms (no singular vs. plural inflection, no conjugations, no declinations), a simple preverbal negative marker, only a few pronouns, only a few prepositions, etc. In some cases pidgins undergo "creolization" becoming full-fledged languages in their own right. We find a French creole in Haiti. There are English creaoles in the Carribean and one off the coast of S. Carolina called "Gullah."

The very existence of Spanglish or Tex-Mex is testimony to the resilience of Spanish. While other languages spoken in Texas have long since died off, Spanish is alive and well and is not going to go away. Obviously, since Spanish is not going anywhere, the most useful approach of the United States is to become officially bilingual. That will doubtless distress speakers of other languages but there is no way to please everyone in such a matter.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

What I can't figure is why anyone would want to have an official language in the first place. Once one language is official, then you end up wasting time and money arguing about which is going to be next. Wouldn't it be smarter and more effective to legislate for the state to provide language support of whatever nature in a way that balances community needs with the tax burden?

9:43 AM

Blogger The Language Guy said...

I share your puzzlement.

I think that there is a large segment of largely conservative folks who are desperate to keep the country the way they've always known it to be -- English-speaking, White-dominated, etc. Passing laws like this is futile but these are the same people who think that if you pass a law against drug possession, people will quit using drugs.

5:08 PM

Blogger The Language Guy said...

I can't decide whether to write a blog that references your site or just reply at your site. In either case you bring up enough questions to make for an interesting discussion.

8:07 AM

Blogger arroaz (Tursiops truncatus) said...

:) My congratulations for this post so interesting. The governor of the state of California should read it. LOL!!!!

2:52 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

If you want to end the debate on a second language for the US, just look North to Canada where English and French are the 2 "official" languages. It is an enourmous headache, especially for the English speaking segment because the Canadian government sucks up to the French speaking segment by letting them pass laws that contravene the intent of having 2 languages. In Quebec and some parts of New Brunswick, it is illegal to have ANY English language signs in public places. They even have a Language Police that enforces the French-only policy of Quebec.

3:42 PM


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