Democrats & Liberals Archives

America's Uncommon Language

Up in Washington, the wise men of the Republican party seek to establish English as our de facto official language. I don’t know to what extent we could say this is just politics, or perhaps practice, but as I see it, it’s a silly move that misunderstands the real nature of our nation’s predominant language.

It's real nature is that It's a promiscuous borrower The language is filled with loan words.

Without French for example, we would not have battles. We would have no enemy, much less enemy soldiers, no defense, no volunteers, much less a volunteer army. The Marines, even if they did exist, would have no Navy to give them rides. Of course nobody would have any problems with having to figure out how to salute a corporal, a sergeant, or a captain, because there would be no such things. There would be no infantry, much less infantry brigades, and likewise no battalions. There would be no bayonets to fix, no pallisades around the fort, no grenades to throw, and no one could rebuff the enemy, if the enemy existed in the first place.

Seriously, though, English, especially the American variety, is full to the brim with words from other languages.

Latin and Greek, for starters. Much scientific and technological terminology stems from those two ancient languages. In fact, science is from latin, and technology is from greek. A great deal of technical language runs along the same lines.

Our words for music are rife with Italian terms. Our words for food are saturated with french. Many sailing terms are dutch or flemish. The names of many places in America itself were coined by the Native Americans.

Our status as an immigrant country, and our parent country's status as a world power ensure that if anything, our language is anything but native, anything but strictly our own. Already, our language has become the lingua franca (in place of the original) for business, given its one everybody misunderstands equallly. It also serves as the basic language for air traffic control, a fact that somewhat mirrors the dutch coinage of many sailing terms in historical terms.

American English has managed to endure any number of intrusions from other languages. This business of trying to make English more the official language of this country ignores the historical tendency for our language to predominate in this land, as well as its tendency to reap rewards in new vocabulary from it.

Protecting the English language from destruction in this country is somewhat like assigning a bodyguard to Neo, the hero from The Matrix. This is not a language that needs to be kept safe. It handles itself just fine. If Congress wants to really protect our language, they should halt illegal immigration through better enforcement, and make it easier and cheaper to immigrate legally. The influx of illegal alien makes it clear that their is a demand for life in America. We've always had an abundant supply. Why don't we knock down the price and welcome some new customers? Only then will we encourage the assimilation we've seen time and time again, as people from every corner of the planet have come here and settled.

Now some on the right decry the multiculturalism that represents, but they fail to realize that America has always been a composite of different cultures, different religions, and different ideologies. The purity of the past is merely illusionary. Look at the Cajuns. Look at my name: Daugherty, the spelling of which indicates that my ancestors came to this country through Maryland in colonial times. Look at the first Amendment's restrictions on establishment and prohibitions of religion- only a nation where dozens of different denominations were dumped together would have to make that kind of compromise from the very beginning.

Ours is a synthetic nation, not founded on a common language, a common race, or any sort of ancient civilizational legacy which belonged to us alone. No one tribe is considered our forebear. We only have English as our language because the thirteen original colonies were British. The Founding Fathers neglected to make English an official language, perhaps because there were already French spearkers and Germans (not to mention a few Irish) in the mix. Since then, America has only become more complex and diverse. We can whine about this, and pine for nonexistent good-ole-days, or we can realize that America is more than that and better than that, too.

Posted by Stephen Daugherty at May 19, 2006 4:23 PM
Comment #149573

English is our language. The founding fathers didn’t feel they needed to say so since people spoke English.

English is the most useful language in the world. THere is NO other language that you can use almost anywhere in the world. Try Spanish outside Latin America (or the U.S.) or Europe north of the Pyrennes. Try Chinese outside E. Asia (or the U.S.). Russian outside the old Soviet Union (or the U.S). French is still probably the second place second language, but it is declining rapidly. Other languages are spoken by their ethnic groups. English is spoken among ethnic groups.

People can speak whatever language they want. BUT the Federal, State and local governments should support only English.

Posted by: Jack at May 19, 2006 7:18 PM
Comment #149576

Out of all the stuff that our worthless legislators have come up with to distract us from the important issues, this one has gotta be the dumbest. Give me a break.

Posted by: JayJay Snow at May 19, 2006 7:40 PM
Comment #149578

JayJay- Sorry lad, you are way off base. The dumbest thing our legislators have done is pass the tax cut extension without mandating spending cuts to go along. Now, that’s dumb.

Stephen- Yes, English is a borrower and we are the richer for the borrowings. However, English is the language of the United States. One can go anywhere in the country and speak to the folks and they will understand. What Congress is doing is to make a symbolic gesture as a reminder to our “visitors” that, if they want to assimilate, they need to learn to speak the predominant language. If I moved to France(heaven forbid), I would not expect the people there to learn English so we could communicate. They would rightfully expect me to learn French.

If I were to be sent for a long period of time to any non-English speaking country, I’d better learn the language or I am going to be lost. Common sense says the citizens of a country have the right to speak their own language and visitors can either learn the language or go fly a kite.

This is not racist or xenophobic or immigrant bashing, this is just plain common sense(a commodity that becoming increasingly less common).

Posted by: John Back at May 19, 2006 8:00 PM
Comment #149580


The thing about English is that you really CAN use it almost anywhere in the world. That is why it is doubly stupid for us not to demand immigrants learn English. Educated people all over the world are working hard to make sure their kids can speak English. Only in English speaking countries are people dumb enough to claim they should not have to learn the world language when they have a golden opportunity.

You know that MOST immigrants want to learn English. It is only the petty racists among them and the so-called ethnic leaders that want to maintain their separate identities forever.

Posted by: Jack at May 19, 2006 8:07 PM
Comment #149585

Stephen, its a bone tossed to their constituency who is furious over the double talk and symbolic gestures toward border (read Homeland) security. It won’t work. But, they are desperate. The border has them caught in their own parties crosshairs. Too much border security and they lose the business base which depends on the cheap labor. Not enough border security and they lose their working base.

It’s throw the dog a bone time.

Posted by: David R. Remer at May 19, 2006 8:26 PM
Comment #149600

>>English is our language. The founding fathers didn’t feel they needed to say so since people spoke English

English is the most useful language in the world
. THere is NO other language that you can use almost anywhere in the world. Try Spanish outside Latin America (or the U.S.) or Europe north of the Pyrennes. Try Chinese outside E. Asia (or the U.S.). Russian outside the old Soviet Union (or the U.S). French is still probably the second place second language, but it is declining rapidly. Other languages are spoken by their ethnic groups. English is spoken among ethnic groups.

People can speak whatever language they want. BUT the Federal, State and local governments should support only English.

Posted by: Jack at May 19, 2006 07:18 PM

Except, many spoke German, and a fair number spoke French…

French did very well as the international language for a couple of hundred years, until it was overpowered by American money in the market-place. By the way, we don’t speak English, we speak American, which is only a bastardized English. If you don’t believe that compare the Webster’s with the Cambridge dictiionaries.

Posted by: Marysdude at May 19, 2006 9:15 PM
Comment #149601

Compare only if you can spell dictionaries better than I can…it doesn’t REALLY have two i’s in the middle…I think they spell it that way in Norway. Ha!

Posted by: Marysdude at May 19, 2006 9:18 PM
Comment #149607


English is our language. The founding fathers didn’t feel they needed to say so since people spoke English.
Except for the native Americans, who were alredy here. So why aren’t we all speaking Sioux, Cherokee, or any of the languages that were already being used here when our ancestors arrived?

Posted by: ElliottBay at May 19, 2006 9:26 PM
Comment #149610

In general, the wish to fit into our country has prompted people to learn English, once they’ve crossed over. We don’t need some arrogant policy to achieve this. It happens naturally and at the immigrant’s own pace.

That is not to be underestimated. We should take heed of the situation the French are in at the moment with their immigrants. The French are maniacal about controlling and protecting their culture. They even have a council set up that decides what words to include officially in the French Language. Now I’m no French basher, but I think their attitude towards their culture is silly, and ironically, the Republicans are on the verge of imitating this to the last detail.

It is our vibrant, innovative, and robust culture which makes us a worldwide presence. The degree to which we become insecure xenophobes and start taking measures to protect our culture from foreign threats, is the degree to which we consign ourselves to irrelevance.

For some, making English the official language is the logical next step, but I don’t feel that it’s really ever been necessary. The shear mass of english speakers in America ensures that command of English is necessary to open certain doors. The selective pressures of that will do the job of preserving the dominance of English as a language in America, to the degree that’s necessary at all.

America has succeeded to the extent it has because it doesn’t handicap itself with needless restrictions on its culture. It lets it go where it may. Why force things and prematurely cut off our options?

Posted by: Stephen Daugherty at May 19, 2006 9:31 PM
Comment #149612


Although I think English should be our official language, I enjoyed taking into consideration the interesting facts you brought up about how much of a borrower the English language really is.

But, perhaps in the situation that we are in, where never before has a language other than English concentrated in so large an area (the southwest and south Florida), that we do indeed need an offical language as a glue to keep us together. Don’t you think we could eventually evolve into a country where one part speaks English and the other Spanish? But then again, the has already happened it seems.. you can live in south Florida and get around without a word of English. Maybe the Senate’s bill is futile?

Anyway I enjoy reading your writings.

Posted by: Mike Tate at May 19, 2006 9:38 PM
Comment #149620

I agree wholeheartedly with you on this, Stephen.
And on the purely political side, I think David is spot-on about this being a throw bone for the red-state xenophobes.

That being said, I can understand a desire to print offical state and government forms, and licences only in English, and not to have to hire a lot of interpreters to constantly assist people with such things. It not only costs a lot of money to print these things up in a multitude of other languages, and hire these interpreters, but I’m of the opinion that this kind of a limitation could act as a powerful incentive for immigrants to learn to both read and communicate in English much faster than many do now.
Just my opinion.

Posted by: Adrienne at May 19, 2006 10:23 PM
Comment #149624


You are right.

Posted by: Jack at May 19, 2006 10:40 PM
Comment #149626

While this issue is a diversion from much more important issues, English as our official language should be implemented. Why would we not want immigrants to fit in and learn the language? Why shouldnt we, as a people and a country say that we want english spoken in our country as it has been for years. We should be proud that we have adapted words from other languages into the American version of the english language. Of course people could choose not to speak english but then I could choose not to listen. If I immigrated to France I would not expect to get by in english I would learn French, Isnt that the way of the world?

Posted by: j2t2 at May 19, 2006 10:44 PM
Comment #149634


It is rare, indeed, when I disagree with you about anything, but this may be one of those. To me, language, like economy and social order must be flexible to be useful. In a few decades English speakers will likely be in the minority, even in America. While we can absorb about anything here we’ve never had, in our history such a drastic change in such a short time. Our national language must accomodate that upheaval.

Posted by: Marysdude at May 19, 2006 11:07 PM
Comment #149641

America has existed as a cohesive nation for years now, in spite of any number of large communities of Non-English speaking peoples within it’s borders.

America isn’t defined as a union by who speaks what. It is defined by the relationship between the government and its people, and the common wish of those people to be free.

I live in an area where every other place name belongs to some German family. I went to Schools that bore such names My bosses speak both Spanish and English.

Does this make me feel like where I live is any less American? No. For hundres of years this has been a land of immigrants, of cultures in a mix, of different languages spoken and one language spoken at the same time.

I have great faith that America will remain one nation, one Republic, without the need for xenophobic measures to protect it. America does not have to rig the game in it’s culture’s favor to win.

Posted by: Stephen Daugherty at May 19, 2006 11:34 PM
Comment #149659

>>America does not have to rig the game in it’s culture’s favor to win.

Posted by: Stephen Daugherty at May 19, 2006 11:34 PM

Amen! And, that from an athiest…

Posted by: Marysdude at May 20, 2006 12:23 AM
Comment #149664

“You are right.”

Wow. That hardly ever happens! ;^)


I’m no xenophobe. While I personally enjoy learning other languages, I do understand how hard it is learn to be proficient in them. Don’t think I don’t empathize with these new Americans, because I really do. And I truly love the fact that we’ve got people from all over the world who want to come and join us in America. IMO they enrich our culture, and make America one of the most exciting places in the world to live.

But, I still think there are two very good reasons why people should learn to speak English when they come to live here.

The first is because I used to tutor college students who came from other countries (most of these people had advanced math skills, and came here on scholarships), but had hardly any English to speak of on their arrival. I did this for several years, and started to notice that when some of these people could communicate with me using French or (my very poor) Spanish as a sort of go-between language, they tended to learn the English I was trying to teach them a lot slower. And they didn’t do nearly as well in their classes where those English skills were later an absolute requirement.
The rest of my students on the other hand, started with nothing but their own language (and with me not understanding theirs), yet ended up learning English very quickly. I mean VERY quickly. These people also did much better in their classes — in fact, they even made a lot more friends!
I really believe this was because they had a greater incentive to communicate with the people they were coming into contact with everyday, and had no other choice but to adapt as rapidly as they could. Personally, I believe we could apply this to every part of life for a new immigrant, and I don’t mean that in a harsh or strict sense at all.

The other reason I think immigrants should speak English, is because English speakers founded this nation. Don’t you think that immigrants to this country should learn about that process, and read the words of our Enlightenment founders in the language those men used? I do.
Question: Have you ever read something in one language and then read an English translation of that same book? It’s often like reading two different books entirely.
I honestly believe that these folks need to read and fully absorb the Declaration of Independence, The Constitution and Bill of Rights, (and maybe some of the other things those men wrote about and discussed with each other) just exactly as those things were written, rather than in a translation that may change and distort the meanings of those vitally important words.

Again, these are just my personal opinions. I now invite you to tell me how completely wrong I am! :^)

Posted by: Adrienne at May 20, 2006 12:34 AM
Comment #149704

Language is more than politically symbolic. Languages reflect the worldview and realities of the culture using it. By couching your worldview in a given language, you provide an inherent structure for organizing your world. The use of a common language assures a similiarity of conceptual framework, if not an agreement on the relationships between the concepts. Commmon language provides an area of common ground where negotiations and compromise are possible.

English is important in the world community because it is suited to describe a modern post industrial world. Similiarly, because of the precision inherent in German, many technically complicated theorhetical fields are discussed in that language. It also is no accident that some languages are believed to be superior in communicating concepts relating to romance. For this reason, it is beneficial for US residents to be able to communicate and think proficiently in english so that they will not be hindered operating in the economic framework.

Aside from the practical advantage of financial enhancement, speaking and thinking in the same language establishes a bond between people and promotes greater understanding of their respective situations. The power of neurolinguistic programing is deeply embedded in human perception and affects all aspects of behavior and attitude.

Posted by: goodkingned at May 20, 2006 6:18 AM
Comment #149707

Ya’ll haven’t got it yet…within the next hundred years, Latin America will encompass the entire Western Hemosphere, from the tip of Argentina to the Hudson Bay. ‘American’ will not be the dominant language. So, why should it become somehow superior in our laws or Constitution?

Posted by: Marysdude at May 20, 2006 7:08 AM
Comment #149715

Stephen,you are right to appreciate the diversity of the ever expanding english language.English is not a snob among languages.It takes its influences from many origins.I’m cool with that.This administration has a thing for bringing up distracting non-issues.People all over the world know that the majority of Americans speak english as a first language.I don’t think it needs to become “official”.It’s globally accepted,as well as the knowledge that America is diverse,and encompasses people who speak other languages in addition.That’s what is awesome about this country!

Posted by: Theresa at May 20, 2006 8:52 AM
Comment #149718

Latin American influence will certainly work its way up, but I doubt anything so simple as a takeover will occur.

That’s a good argument for not doing too much bilingual education, but for there being an official language? No. In fact, this is one of my premises for why an official language is unnecessary: most immigrant families, with two or three generations of their arrival, learn English by default. Why force what already happens eventually on its own?

In France, where accepting the culture and language is made more of a condition of joining with the culture, there’s less assimilation. In America, where people are more free to assimilate at their own pace, there’s more of it, and its more complete

Why is this? Why are Muslims still trapped in the Paris Ghettos, where here they fit in much easier? The answer is that we ask, they demand. The price for bypassing the volition of a person in terms of whether they conform or not, is the rejection in one’s heart of the demanded change.

People here eventually, or quite soon, want to be part of the integrated community. I heard this one guy, Bernard Henri-Levy recount a conversation he had with a Muslim who said that he and many of his people wanted to be the new Jews- That is, to become as thoroughly a part of the American community as the European Jews of yesteryear, who went on to make great contributions to business and culture.

And that’s the key: we can try and drag people into becoming Americans, or we can see them do that on their own. I believe that if we fix up the immigration laws right, we can encourage to come here to stay, not to merely come and go for the jobs and the money. Once here, the very nature of American life will react with their communities to bring their children and grandchildren securely into American life.

Why force what you can have happen spontaneously?

Posted by: Stephen Daugherty at May 20, 2006 9:37 AM
Comment #149722

I agree with the comments that there isn’t a need to make english the “official” language, I think that is inherent in the fact of living here. However, we do need to continue supporting ESL programs so that immigrants coming here can learn to speak english and encourage the importance of learning it.

Coming from the Northeast(where there is much diversity) I had to spend some time in Miami in the hospital settings. I was shocked at my experience there. I found myself having alot of trouble communicating with individuals that had been here in the US for over 8yr, they either did not want to speak the little English they knew or still did not know how to speak and what was appalling was that I was told “you need to learn Spanish”. I come from a bilingual home, my parents taught me to speak English and their native tongue, my parents taught themselves to speak English, and my dad still has trouble but tries. I don’t believe you need to throw your identity away to embrass the “American” culture but like others have written I wouldn’t go to another country and be angry b/c they don’t speak my native language.

This issue isn’t about language, b/c we are “the melting pot”, it is about the issues of legal immigration, individuals who come without proper documentations do create a heavy burden on our society and I say this with the experience of working in the healthcare field . For those who say they are looking for a better life, that is great and you should as did my family but you still need to go through the proper channels even though it make take some time.

Posted by: BB at May 20, 2006 10:46 AM
Comment #149726
Except for the native Americans, who were alredy here. So why aren’t we all speaking Sioux, Cherokee, or any of the languages that were already being used here when our ancestors arrived?

At the very least, because there were soooo many “Indian” languages, we should be speaking Spanish…afterall, the Spanish founded the oldest city on what is now U.S. soil (St. Augustine, Florida, for those of you who forgot)…plus the entire Southwest and West was peopled by Spanish speakers long before our “manifest destiny” shoved everyone there south.

I vote for Spanish…easier to learn, vowels and consonants don’t constantly change sound, verbs are regularly conjugated…

Posted by: Lynne at May 20, 2006 11:03 AM
Comment #149727

People, people, people.

Do you think Congress could possibly be MORE vague?

If English is our “common” language, does that mean we have to start spelling “color” as “colour”? After all, WE DON”T SPEAK ENGLISH!!!

We speak American.

Now, if Congress says that “English” is our common language…does that include “American”? Does that include “Australian”? Does that include “Canadian”, eh? Does that recognize “Ebonics” as “English”? Or “Cajun”? Or “Spanglish”?

Does that recognize the difference between “Northeastern English” and “Midwestern English”? Or the difference between “West Coast English” and “Southern English”?

Did Congress say that “English” and all its “sub-dialects” are our “common language”?

I think Congress needs to grow some “common sense” instead of “common language”.

Posted by: Jim T at May 20, 2006 11:14 AM
Comment #149733

“That’s a good argument for not doing too much bilingual education, but for there being an official language? No.”


Posted by: Adrienne at May 20, 2006 11:52 AM
Comment #149737

What is so threatening about adopting a law establishing an “official” language?

Any visitor to another country has experienced the frustration of not being able to speak the native language.

At present, government documents, food labels and just about everything else is written in both English and Spanish. Yet not all Americans, legal and illegal, speak either.

Does that mean we have to translate every doucment and label into every language spoken?

Anyone suggesting that would be looked upon as a moron.

We need an “official” language that is common to everyone for purposes of commerce, entertainment, education, etc.

Or we could adopt the Canadian model. We could become a nation of French Americans, Spanish Americans, German Americans, Italian Americans, Chinese Americans and every other language spoken in the country.

Of course, when traveling within this America, it would be impossible to ask for directions, get medical attention or find a place to eat.

Posted by: vietnam_vet at May 20, 2006 12:24 PM
Comment #149755

For what my 2 cents are worth,….I’m pretty ambivalent about this, and I think for the simple reason that we have too many un-enforced, or un-enforcable laws now!! What I would most certainly like NOT to see, would be ballots printed in anything but English !

Posted by: Sandra Davidson at May 20, 2006 2:40 PM
Comment #149762

You know america is made up of more than just mexicans. what about all the other cultures and their languages? we can’t exclude their languages if we begin to use spanish. If imigrants stop learning english comunication will be crazy. I don’t know about you but I don’t want to learn 5 different languages. There will be no unity. I think it is very important to keep your culture alive but no one says you should abandone it when you learn english. I am an imagrint and I love speaking english and I still retain my other language as well. This is America not Mexico, France, Italy or any other country. So when you live here you can speak what ever language you want but English (or American if you will) is the language of the country and should also be part of your vocabulary.

Posted by: anonymous at May 20, 2006 3:28 PM
Comment #149778

as previously stated English and american are not the same language, American being a conglomerate of many languages just as our entire culture is a result of many influences. If this country is to remain the great nation that it is we must not become separatists. Let people have the freedom to speak in the language of their choice!

Posted by: mark at May 20, 2006 6:15 PM
Comment #149805

Latin American influence will certainly work its way up, but I doubt anything so simple as a takeover will occur.

Posted by: Stephen Daugherty at May 20, 2006 09:37 AM

Not a takeover, Stephen, an out-population. Latinos should become the largest non-white group in America within the next few years, then within fifty years will become the majority. This is America. Our Constitution supports just this ‘take-over’, as the majority rules by vote. Canada will, of course, be next, by virtue of job availability. By the end of this century, a bastardized latino language will prevail on the western hemosphere. Just my opinion, of course…

Posted by: Marysdude at May 20, 2006 11:27 PM
Comment #149813

It’s official, English IS NOW the official language of the United States. Personally I think it’s about time.
Now to get a constitutional amendment making it the official language.

Posted by: Ron Brown at May 21, 2006 12:00 AM
Comment #149836

While English is a universal language and the rest of the world knows it, that didn’t happen by passing a law.

I learned long ago speaking to immigrants from the middle east, europe, and asia that many countries require english in their elementary level schools. It is the international language of commerce.

I don’t think what happened in Quebec, with their fights over language, was particularly good for that city.

This is the flag burning issue of the day. Most legislators realize its win-win for them. It costs nothing, it does nothing and it wins them brain dead voter kudos. I wonder who they are targeting?(he said rhetorically)

Language will evolve as language will evolve. Legislating it will not harness my tongue. What language is google derived from anyway?

Posted by: gergle at May 21, 2006 3:08 AM
Comment #149845

In our past, we have had many immigrants from many countries. Many of them setteled in communities composed exclusively of people from the same country. Their stores had signs in their language. They had their own newspapers. Many of the first generation never learned english because they were loyal to the language of their former countries and because they did not have to learn english to get by. Many of the second generation knew both english and the language of their parents. After three or four generations, most of the decendents could no longer speak the language of the first generation.

There are many decendents of Mexican immigrants who can no longer speak spanish. By the way, I once worked with a young immigrant from Spain who constantly complained that the Mexicans did not speak spanish but mexican or bastard spanish.

I am not adverse to helping immigrants out when they first arrive here with government information printed in their own language. But, I think the current situation has implications of going beyond that. For instance, Many places I call will say press 1 for english, press 2 for spanish. The recording does not say press 3 for french or press 4 for Zulu.

I think that the current situation is an effort to force the nation to be bilingual. If this is the case, then I think that it would be more appropriate if our children learned english and a dialect of chinese since the Chinese will own our country within a few years if we don’t get the congress to cease it’s borrow and spend tactics.

Posted by: jlw at May 21, 2006 4:37 AM
Comment #149860

I always knew that sooner or later Bushco would do something I supported and I would find myself in the detestable position of having to agree with that moron. (Yuch!!)

Sure he is trying to throw a bone, but I argue that English only(American) is the only way to go.


I can see no good reason to spend our money to make our government bi-lingual. It cost a lot to support Spanish. If we do, then why don’t we support Chineese, German, Korean and Arabic… ( Dont’, list Yiddish though, we already send them enough money).

This is America. If you get here legally, we might let you become an American. If you come here and don’t want to assimilate, I’d call you a tourist(be sure to bring enough money to support your self). If you didn’t get here legaly I’d call you a criminal, not a resident or even a guest worker.

Finally, Just because some border jumper (see criminal, non-resident) has a child here I see no reason to call that child an American. While it is not the child’s fault that it’s parent(s) are criminals, being an American is more than just the lat-long of your birth. They should go back home and take their rightful place in the line with the people who want come here legaly and become an American. Then they will be welcomed here.

Posted by: Gedunk at May 21, 2006 8:49 AM
Comment #149864

For the purpose of quality control this conversation will likely be recorded:

Press 1. For English.

Press 2. For a better President and Congress.

Press 3. To return to the country you came from.

For all other questions, please have your valid social security card handy.

Thank You.

Posted by: Gedunk at May 21, 2006 9:07 AM
Comment #149882

I find it amusing. If you ask a linguist they will tell you that when a country passes a law to establish an official language what that really means is that it is already a bi-lingual country.Spanish in particular has a very long history in much of what is now the US. I live in California. All the major cities and many of the smaller have Spanish names. Spanish was the “official” language here for something like 300 years before the region became part of the US. There are communities here that have spoken Spanish since before the Pilgrims landed.

Posted by: BillS at May 21, 2006 10:49 AM
Comment #149884

Let’s face it, any U.S. business unwilling to use Spanish in its advertising or business dealings will find itself losing business…it’s an advantage to a business to be able to “speak” another language…why is our government so short-sighted as to insist on only one language??

Posted by: Lynne at May 21, 2006 10:55 AM
Comment #149887


While that may be true, being officially bi-lingual is not a very good option. The purpose of this bill is to choose if Americans should accomidate these foriegners or if they should become functional and productive while living among us.

I personally believe that if you don’t speak English you can not really function (here except posibly as a tourist).

The advantages (if any) of being a bi-lingual country are far out weighed by the cultral and financial costs.

Posted by: Gedunk at May 21, 2006 11:04 AM
Comment #149888

Another important factor that dooms as futile any anti-Spanish nonsense is that the children of the wealty and powerful are being raised by Maria. They are being taught Spanish from the cradle.” The hand that rocks the cradle rules the world.”Get used to it.Try to pick up enough to be polite and enjoy the food.

Posted by: BillS at May 21, 2006 11:06 AM
Comment #149914

The purpose of this legislation is not to shun foreigners or discourage them from speaking their native tongue. Merely, this bill is meant to encourage all Americans to learn English.

I personally like the bill, and I think we could have used it a long time ago. Besides more effectively assimilating foreigners into our society, thus providing a greater sense of unity, making English our official national language will help mitigate the overt racial and ethnic sectionalism that exists in this country—and what breeds sectionalism? Hatred.

We see examples of this throughout the course of history. The Civil War, broadly, was fought over sectionalized tensions over slavery. And today, the sectarian violence in Iraq spawns from sectionalism between the Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds. Granted, these examples incite more violence and stir more emotion than what we are dealing with today, but you get the idea.

Now, I am not suggesting that this bill will end racism, miraculously expunging all ethnic tensions—that will never happen—I am simply suggesting that this piece of legislation is a rare opportunity to make a difference, and its one we should not squander.

Posted by: Alex Fitzsimmons at May 21, 2006 12:52 PM
Comment #149939

When I started reading this article, I was Stephen on this one, but Adrienne said,

“…I can understand a desire to print offical state and government forms, and licences only in English, and not to have to hire a lot of interpreters to constantly assist people with such things. It not only costs a lot of money to print these things up in a multitude of other languages, and hire these interpreters, but I’m of the opinion that this kind of a limitation could act as a powerful incentive for immigrants to learn to both read and communicate in English much faster than many do now.
Just my opinion.”

I have to admit that this view point has some merit. I’m working on a project building a computer system for a State government right now. We learned about a quarter of the way through the project that there was a new policy that all forms had to be available in any language that was the primary language of over 1% of the population in any county or 500 people whichever was less. Based on the 1% rule, some of our counties were small enough that 100 people would trip the requirement. Our rough estimate was that we would have to translate the forms into approximatley 40 languages. The kicker was that we would not have to support 10 different character sets (russian, chinese, japanese, greek, and arabic would all have to be supported) for the forms as well. Without even including the translation, our estimate was that it would cost over $2 million dollars to do. Figuring in translation costs, we were at something around $5 million or almost 20% of the total budget of the project. These were the conservative estimates for a medium sized project that only produces about 50 forms. Thankfully, we got a waiver on the requirement.

While I believe that there is little merit in making English “official,” there should be some common sense in how far the government has to go to support speakers of other languages.

Posted by: Rob at May 21, 2006 3:36 PM
Comment #149962

A person should do their best to learn English in this country. That’s not the dispute. The trouble here is that folks are confusing idealized function of society with the real world’s functioning.

In our heads, the idea of having only one language as an official language seems only right. That is, until we consider that having English as the Official language means we’re deciding what language our nation’s official business can be handled in.

It’s a discriminatory measure at its very heart. Worse, it changes nothing about the problem of having to translate people’s languages. In fact, it obligates that translation as a matter of course, since English would be the only official language.

Those who object on the grounds that we would have to provide every language a translation do not understand two things:

1)Globalism will ensure that commerce and other things will require translations. We already see a number of different languages in our instructions, and on our boxes. Why? Because it’s cheaper than printing three separate monolingual boxes or instruction booklets. It’s just not practical to go single language when the rest of the world still speaks their own

2)Only a few languages actually require such attention. We don’t have to deal with all the different languages out there, just with the major ones. We don’t put out voting material in every language here in Texas, just in Spanish and Vietnamese. Maybe in other places you have to include French, German or some other tongue. Thinking about it on a monolithic level is not taking advantage of the federal system’s ability to designate tasks such as this.

What’s threatening is this: it means we’re cheating to maintain our culture, like the French do. Look at what has happened to the French and every other country that’s gone this way: They’ve become ossified, fortified, and their traditional cultures have become items for the museum. Do we want to become an exhibit in the long line of nations that has pursued nationalist impulses and paid with the peace, vibrance, and prosperity of their culture?

As for being African-American, French-American, Irish-American, German-American, Italian-American, etc. I don’t think we should have a problem with it, because in the end, they’re all calling themselves Americans. The idea that somehow by just saying I’m American and speaking English means we’re unified is foolish. Real societies have factions, parties, races, subcultures, and differences in abundance. What sets us apart is that we don’t think, as a culture, that there is fatal flaw in this diversity that could overcome our ability to act in our best interests as a society.

We should unified in our belief that no matter what the color of our skin, the ancestry of our parents, or the language we speak, that we can work out our differences and govern ourselves without elevating one race, one religion, one culture, or one language above all others and pronouncing it superior.

English-only is a wish. It will never be a reality unless something goes seriously wrong. For the most part, it’s not necessary to protect English like this. Most people know the drill coming into America.

Assimilation in this country is more than just a matter of one generation, more than one language. I does not break my leg nor pick my pocket to have somebody speak the language they know and communicate well in.

If they function better, do their business well speaking their native tongue, then I’d rather they do that. The children, of course, should be taught the language of common usage in this country: English. No argument there.

Citizenship, though, should remain granted at Birth. If we want to be harsh with those illegal aliens who have their kids here, we can put them in foster custody, preferably with family, until their parents straighten out and fly right. Or we could work somethinge else out, as practical. To revoke birth citizenship is to put every minority somebody wants to disadvantage at risk of being excluded.

This has not worked out well at the places where its been tried.

Alex Fitzsimmons-
Measures like these are the source of much of that hatred. They give one side an advantage they’d fight not to lose, making them oppressors. They give the other side a disadvantage, which encourages them to disregard the system, to destroy the peace and law and order, as it only serves to surpress them.

America does not have language riots, racial riots, religious riots, and other forms of disorder to the extent other nations have them for one important reason: we produce far fewer of the inequalities that make these conflicts chronic.

This Democracy works because most Americans have a stake in it working. The Immigrants might not be able to gain fluency in our language within their lifetimes, but nearly all of them plan for their children and grandchildren to have it.

Should we create a pool of disadvantage people, cut off from the normal, organic process of assimilation, simply because we’re too impatient to let things take their course?

What breeds violence and hateful division, often enough, are people too impatient about changing the world to properly consider the right, wrong, and consequence of their action. They’re so wrapped up in themselves, in their own righteousness, that they can’t see how they could become somebody else’s bad guy. When things get nasty, what you have is both sides suffering from this self-absorption, Then what can be done?

I’d rather prevent this mistake, than have us make it and regret it after we’ve already complicated things.

Posted by: Stephen Daugherty at May 21, 2006 5:59 PM
Comment #150200

This article was nothing but obfuscations. American speaks English. Period.

Posted by: Silent Majority at May 22, 2006 2:17 PM
Comment #150204

I didn’t want to argue, but I can’t resist commenting on this:

“Seriously, though, English, especially the American variety, is full to the brim with words from other languages. “

I agree, but it’s still considered English. Italian, Spanish AND French use words from Latin, which is no longer spoken anywhere, yet we still consider French to be French and Spanish to be Spanish.

I believe this article obfuscates the issue that in the United States of America, the common language that everyone speaks and MORE IMPORTANTLY….SHOULD SPEAK, is English. (or American, whatever you wish to call it)

Posted by: Silent Majority at May 22, 2006 2:27 PM
Comment #150230

Stephen,a quick comment on illegals with American kids.I know you said it in passing with reference to the language topic,but what you said about the possibility of short term foster care struck a chord with me.Now maybe I identify with these illegal immigrants more than the average because my life has been filled with uncertainties such as these people are feeling.I’m a former foster kid,and while I lucked out and stayed with a wonderful family for some time,it was still a heartbreaking time in my life.Especially seeing my younger siblings’ worlds being turned upside down and the anxiety they faced due to separation.No one should have to go through that.Pardon the wishy washy crap,but there you have it.

Posted by: Theresa at May 22, 2006 3:29 PM
Comment #150261

Silent Majority-
America speaks whatever it damn well pleases, and has for some time now. Most of us speak English, by default. I’m not saying that’s a bad thing. I’m just saying there’s not much good in forcing to happen what happens naturally.

Italian, French, Spanish, and the other Romance languages don’t merely have loan words. They’re descended from Latin, and have latin words as the roots for much of their vocabulary. We have a great deal of latinate words through the older version of french that the Normans brought with them upon their conquest of Britain.

But what does that mean? Well, it means that these languages interacted over time with that of their neighbors, and with populations of immigrants within their territories.

That is how American English got much of its vocabulary.

Now, I couldn’t possibly pull the wool over people’s eyes about what language we speak here in America, even if I wanted to. It’s obvious. But as for the question of what people should speak, I think that’s best left up to people. It’s my belief, and I think history bears this out, that social and economic pressures naturally encourage people to learn English, and assimilate to the culture. I have enough faith in my culture and my language to let these happen on their own, and not screw it up by such brute force intervention.

It’s harsh, I know, and to be honest, I hope better ideas can be had. That said, though, the intention is to deter illegal immigrants from the practice of having their children in America when they are still illegal aliens themselves. It sounds pretty painful, and that’s the point. It’s no worse than putting a child in foster care when the parent is imprisoned for a crime. I want the parent contemplating that gaining the citizenship for their child in this way will lead to some painful consequences.

On the other hand, I would make the citizenship process itself easier, so that fewer people would see illegal immigration as their more ideal way in. Have the children as legitimate immigrants, I would say. Encourage the parents to keep with the process, for the sake of the children they have here. If it’s any comfort, I wouldn’t support the stick here without the carrot I mention.

Posted by: Stephen Daugherty at May 22, 2006 4:35 PM
Comment #150280

I know that something has to be done,but I can’t think of a single thing that would be fair to everyone.There’s no way I could ever be a good politician.I’m not objective enough and I’m too sentimental.However,I usually like the things you have to say.

Posted by: Theresa at May 22, 2006 5:01 PM
Comment #150357

Thought I’d just pop out and knock up my neighbor. The old spanner was just a bit under the bonnet.

I thought I’d bring her some bangers, you know.

Posted by: gergle at May 22, 2006 8:31 PM
Comment #150563

Stephen you said,

“Have the children as legitimate immigrants, I would say.”

Just a clarifying point, the children are citizens not immigrants.

Posted by: Rob at May 23, 2006 3:44 PM
Comment #150568

Stephen you said, “2)Only a few languages actually require such attention. We don’t have to deal with all the different languages out there, just with the major ones. We don’t put out voting material in every language here in Texas, just in Spanish and Vietnamese. Maybe in other places you have to include French, German or some other tongue. Thinking about it on a monolithic level is not taking advantage of the federal system’s ability to designate tasks such as this.”

What about L.A., NYC, Chicago? The issue of the cost of providing multi-language support is not as trivial as you make it out to be. It costs very real, and potentially large amounts of money. Government forms (beyond simple fill-in ones) come out of computer systems, those systems cost money to program and produce. Producing the form in one language bears some cost, while maybe not 2x it is probably at least 1.5 x to produce the same form in each additional language, and that assumes romance character sets. If you go to Chinese, for instance, the architecture of the reporting subsystem has to be modified since there are so many more characters in the language. Certainly this is a mundane problem, but the devil as always is in the detail.

I’m an IT consultant so that money pays my bills, but it seems a waste not to have to trade features for languages in a budget squeezed situation.

Posted by: Rob at May 23, 2006 3:52 PM
Comment #255151

Who cares wether it’s official or not?. The fact that it’s spoken is what counts. Right?
And the article did have a good point. It’s probably why you can learn another language noticing words that are very similiar to English.
Who says English is the most “useful” or “important” language. Language is a way of communicating with other people,and knowing only one blocks that communication with many people. Besides, I’d like to know more than one language myself (I’m bengali,but I only speak the language at home I’m not literate in it).

Posted by: Taniya at June 10, 2008 7:40 PM
Comment #282822


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