April 2012

April 2012: A Line In The Sand - Should ENGLISH be the Offical Language of the United States?

Author: Frank Dunne, Jr. & Courtney Hampson | Photographer: Photography by Anne

FRANKS’S OPINION

“Americans continue to overwhelmingly believe that English should be the official language of the United States and reject by sizable margins the idea that such a move is racist or a violation of free speech.”

That was the lead in a news release for a 2010 Rasmussen poll concluding that 87 percent of Americans believe English should be the nation’s official language. Let’s look at some more polling data:

2002 Kaiser Family Foundation Poll: 91percent of foreign-born Latino immigrants agree that learning English is essential to succeed in the U.S.

2002 Carnegie/Public Agenda Poll: By more than a 2-1 margin, immigrants themselves say the U.S. should expect new immigrants to learn English.

The majority of Americans, both natural-born and immigrant believe that a common language is in the best interest of everybody. It’s not bigoted. It’s not intolerant. It’s simple common sense. Nevertheless, those who subscribe to the theories of political correctness and multiculturalism cling bitterly to their nutty credos: “You’re a bigot! You’re intolerant of other peoples’ cultures!” they wail when we suggest that English ought to be a condition of citizenship—and to the delusion that they have cornered the market of public opinion. The numbers say otherwise, folks. Our own Miss Courtney said, “I don’t believe a melting pot like the U.S. can expect to have one language.”

I know…I know. Your head is spinning. It’s like having a conversation with Yogi Berra. Let’s ask her together, Courtney, what on earth do you think “melting pot” means?

Let me spell it out for you. Melting pot is a metaphor used to describe a place—America—where people from all over the world can live together peacefully and work together for the common good. Get it? You throw a bunch of things into a pot and they all melt together to form a new thing. In this case, that new thing is a unique and distinct American culture. One of our culture’s (or any culture’s) greatest strengths is a common language.

Why is that? Well, do you think it mere happenstance that the words community and communicate are the same until the eighth letter? Or do you think it has something to do with the fact that the etymology of both words leads to the same Latin root, communis, which means common. You see, Courtney, you can’t have a civil community of people living together peacefully and for the common good if they can’t even say hello to one another.

Is there anyone out there who would disagree that job and professional opportunities are significantly better in the United States for people who speak English? It doesn’t take a scientific poll to conclude that the vast majority of Americans conduct business in English. I’m not sure how many successful non-English-speaking engineers, scientists, CEOs and other professionals there are in America, but there sure are a lot of non-English-speaking immigrants picking onions and blowing leaves. Nobody’s suggesting that learning English guarantees anything to anybody, but it certainly does improve the chances for upward socioeconomic mobility.

It makes one wonder what those minions of the multicultural god are really saying to an immigrant when they suggest that he needn’t learn English. “Welcome to America, young man. There are plenty of opportunities here, just not for you. We’re happy to have you, though, as long as you don’t try to assimilate to our culture. Please remain isolated from the greater society and stay right where you belong—in the onion field.” They love to claim the mantle of compassion, but that hardly sounds compassionate to me.

COURTNEY’S OPINION:

Yes, let’s make English the official language of the United States. While we’re at it, I’d like to propose that we make Catholic the official religion, white the official color, Democrat the official political affiliation, gay the official sexual orientation, and 15 the official SPF.

Unless you are a Native American, your ancestors are from other countries. And when they first came to America, they spoke another language. Your Polish-speaking grandmother didn’t just decide to start uttering Polish one day. She was from Poland!

Between 1890 and 1920, 18 million people emigrated from Europe to the United States. This influx of Irish and Germans, Italians and Eastern Europeans created what was dubbed the “Melting Pot”—this fabulous mix of different cultures, all living together as one, pursuing the American dream and enjoying the freedoms of America. Clearly this new population segregated themselves: working class vs. white collar. The working class didn’t necessarily have a full grasp of the English language, and it stilted their employment options.

A century later, we are experiencing a second significant emigration of families from Asia and Latin America. In fact, according to the National Center for Educational Statistics, more than one in five school-aged children (21 percent) speak a language other than English at home. That number of bilingual speakers is projected to increase in the coming years, but the new crop of immigrants will face the same employment woes. They have to learn the language.

I think it is absolutely fair to make learning and understanding English a stepping-stone to U.S. citizenship. If I were to move to Germany, I would certainly expect to have to learn the language. Unfortunately, I believe that the recent wave of immigrants dubbed “illegal” (when undocumented would be so much less harsh and more accurate) raises the hackles of those on the conservative aisle, so rather than welcome new residents it would be so much easier to create a negative stereotype and penalize them immediately.

To that end, it might also make sense to make the path to citizenship and English literacy easier. If we give just a little, might our undocumented residents be a little more apt to follow the process? Let’s encourage the legal assimilation of everyone who chooses to make the U.S. home.

Frankly, my questions and concerns stem primarily around the need to make English the “official” language. And, further it is really the word “official” that bothers me. Why, when English is already certainly the de facto language of the U.S., must we “officially” declare it the language? What does that buy us? When English becomes the “official” language, what happens?

Do we have to start a new federal agency that will have oversight of the use of the English language? This seems like a bunch of bureaucratic hoo ha that will end up costing me money. More importantly, as a writer, I fear for my safety and my livelihood. I mean, sometimes I like ending a sentence with a preposition. Other times, I even make up words and phrases (see “hoo ha”) to get my point across. If I’m really aggravated, I curse, like a Jersey City cab driver.

Once the language police are out in full force, we will all be on edge. Armed with dictionaries and thesauruses, they’ll be spot-checking for dangling participles, missed verb conjugation, and my greatest fear: conscious and copious cases of alliteration.

Seriously though, as a world power, we don’t measure up when it comes to our ability to communicate in multiple languages. On average, 51 percent of the world’s population is bilingual. In comparison, roughly 19 percent of Americans are fluent in a second language. In a 2010 article for the Huffington Post, Steven Leveen, CEO of Levenger (levenger.com) said, “The first step is to recognize that it’s in our economic, cultural and political interests to become as bilingual as the world average of 51 percent, and then to go beyond the world average. Moreover, Americans should become the most diverse ilk of bilinguals on the planet, showing off the diversity that has made our country great.”

President Obama admits that he doesn’t speak a foreign language and says, “It is embarrassing.” FYI, Gingrich and Romney both speak French, and Santorum is fluent in Italian.

Bottom line, it would be shortsighted to spend our legislator’s time and our money on making English the “official” language. The beauty of America is that we are all so very different.

  1. I think there is a much more basic reason to make English the “official” language. There has to be a line in the sand with regard to the language that we teach in public schools, the language that we use on the street signs and billboards and highways, in phone books, in the library and so on and so on. Otherwise, if we try to include the language of EVERY culture, there would be no consistent way to teach our children how to read, write and communicate. We aren’t even doing the job in English all that well, it seems to me. As it is, we spend millions trying to duplicate everything in Spanish… what language do we try to accommodate next? Chinese? Russian? Greek?


    — Suzi Huisman    Apr 5, 05:45 am   

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