5.19.2006

Se Habla Inglés

On Thursday, the Senate passed two amendments on language to S. 2611, the first, "To declare English as the national language of the United States and to promote the patriotic integration of prospective US citizens" and the second, "To declare that English is the common and unifying language of the United States, and to preserve and enhance the role of the English language," which is a slightly softer measure than the first. (These provisions would not apply, however, to already existing practices. )

Why pass these measures now when there have been minor factions trying to pass similar actions for years? As of now, English has never been the official language of the USA. We have never had, legally, a national language. It's xenophobia, if not racism, taking form in a "patriotic" slap in the face to anyone who speaks a language other than English as their primary tongue.

We use English because of immigration patterns. People who spoke English immigrated here and proliferated the speaking of the language when the existing population spoke, for instance, Creek. Those who now decry the widespread use of, for instance, Spanish in our homes, businesses, and government offices blame it on immigration patterns. They're right. So, it's okay for English to grow because of immigration patterns, but it's not okay for any other language to grow for the same reason. That smells like hypocrisy.

The new amendments state that "no one has a right to federal communications or services in a language other than English except for those already guaranteed by law", according to The Washington Post. Consider the chaos this might enact within the immigration system alone, not to mention other points of contact between the government and the people, the Social Security office for instance.

For a country that has such an appalling reputation in terms of learning other languages, it seems largely mean spirited and hypocritical to demand speakers of other languages reach such high standards in our predominant language that they could navigate our government services and regulations -- which is hard enough for native English speakers.

We don't need to offer government services in every language under the sun. That's impractical. But leaving the system open, as it is now, to allow for access in several widewpoken tongues is not only more practical but morally correct.

Even a legal requirement to learn English won't create a fluent population overnight. Learning a new language, as too few of us know, is difficult. It takes years to reach a high enough level of proficiency to engage in debate and understand official phrasing and diction. These new amendments will therefore decrease the efficiency of government processes as new English speakers struggle through without help.

Why not allow this to take its natural course? English is not in danger of losing its stronghold here, nor does speaking another language detract from loyalty to this country. This wasn't broken, but a spirit of bigotry threw some rocks at it to fix it.

3 Comments:

Blogger Candocanyu said...

Fear is such a driving force in this country. People have for so long associated racism, with hating black people, that they forget that it is the actual prejudice toward any group of people. I've so often heard people say "I'm not a racist, I just don't like these undocumented (insert expletive here) in my country, they're dirty and disgusting and take jobs away from hard working Americans." I often wonder if they’ve taken the time to actually ask whether the people they’re talking about are indeed undocumented. Many people I’ve worked with and befriended over the years were indeed citizens, but preferred speaking a language other than English, because it is what they are most comfortable with. I have spent a significant amount of time in a foreign country, and continued to speak English, because it is the what I am most comfortable with, but learned what I needed of the native language of that country to get by. I was constantly surprised by my fellow Americans refusal to speak another language, even if they were given coaching on what the proper protocol and vocabulary would be appropriate. I heard “I know they speak English, so why even bother,” more than once while abroad. If this is the attitude we carry with us to other countries, how dare we persecute people in this country by following our example.
Prejudices that were once kept quiet out of sheer embarrassment or fear of confrontation, have now become mainstream arguments. Our political administration as made a terrible example for our citizens by publicly making villains out of entire races of people. If our own politicians refuse to treat people of other cultures with respect how can we expect future generations of Americans to.

12:26 PM, May 19, 2006  
Blogger Jamespeak said...

Yyyyup, it's pretty common to act xenophobic under the guise of acting "patriotic." Samuel Johnson made the pronouncement that patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel, and there's been very little in recent years to prove otherwise.

Anyway, welcome to the blogosphere, Jeremy.

11:50 PM, May 19, 2006  
Anonymous Mickey J. Ellis said...

I understand that its easy to label people as racist because they don't agree with your point of view. And that hypocrisy is easist to spot when we're not looking at our selves. It may be hard to hear, but it makes it no less true, that many people are not racist, but do feel threatened by the influx of a different language. Both my brothers have married Latinas, but my sister has been refused jobs because she doesn't speak Spanish. This is in California. Can you imagine, not being college educated, living a minimum wage life, and finding jobs scarce, and then being turned down for a grocery clerk job or other minimum wage jobs because you don't speak Spanish. To people with few options, this can be a frightening experience. Moral HighGround is often only the luxery of the rich or near rich. Being poor and having a lack of an education is not just an imigrant problem.There are two sides to every story. And a little compassion goes a long with with every point of view.

3:15 PM, May 20, 2006  

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