Sunday, January 8, 2012

One Nation...Under English

I got into a debate with an acquaintance of mine a few weeks back. She was talking to a woman whose car had been broken into. The women had left her doors unlocked and some of her music and some other items had been taken. I asked her why she had left her doors unlocked, to which she replied, "Well, this IS Montana!" Umm...okay. That doesn't mean we don't have criminals here. Anyway, the shop owner made some reply that it was because THOSE people were moving into town. Call it intuition or whatever you like, I KNEW who she was speaking of. So I said, "Hey now, let's not get nasty, I'm one of THOSE people." She then argued that no, I was not one of them. I said yes. She said no. I said, "I'm Spanish." And she said, "OH! You ARE one of THOSE people." Yes, to my face. Just like that. Yes folks, racism is alive and well in the USA and Montana does not seem to be any different.

I see the posts on Facebook about being all mad about having to press 1 for English. Did you know I spent over 30 minutes pressing buttons on the phone the other day to get to a real person and I never once had to press anything to speak to anyone in English? It wouldn't matter if they took that option off of there, you'd still have to spend 30 minutes of your life pushing buttons. Everything is automatic and convenient, just the way we wanted it. Pressing 1 for English might just keep you from getting stuck speaking to someone from a foreign country that you wouldn't be able to understand. It's not like businesses actually hire in the US anymore. Is that 1 second for that 1 button really worth griping over? I have an idea, let's teach our children another language so that they have the skills to live and communicate in an ever-shrinking world. Instead of keeping it English only.

I wrote an Argumentative Essay for college. I'm going to share it here. You may disagree with my stand on the topic, my professor sure did. I still got an A because I argued the point well. Hopefully you will see it the same way. The works cited part will probably be a mess, please excuse that.

One Nation Under English

The United States has always been a nation of many languages. Because of the large role that the country plays in world affairs English is a language that is widely used around the globe.  The English language has been declared the official language of many countries, but the United States of America has never declared an official language. In 1780, John Adams proposed a government-sponsored Academy of the English Language. According to an ACLU briefing paper, “the proposal was ‘rejected as undemocratic and a threat to individual liberty’ by the Continental Congress” (The American Civil Liberties Union). Recently there has been a strong drive to make English the recognized language of the U.S. However, to declare a national language for the United States of America would be a grave assault on the intentions of the Founding Fathers when they created this country.

It is important to remember that the United States of America is a nation of immigrants. Diversity is what has always made the United States great. Each ethnicity, culture, and language brings a special flavor to all that makes us distinctly American. According to the CIA’s World Factbook, people who speak English as a first language only account for 4.68% of the world’s population. Spanish “first language” speakers account for 4.88% (Central Intelligence Agency). Spanish is the second-most spoken language in the world. In 2006, the U.S. Census Bureau declared that there were over 279 million people in the United States. Of those approximately 224 million were English-only speakers. That leaves over 54 million people who speak other languages, more than 34 million of whom speak Spanish (U.S. Census Bureau).

Despite these numbers, there are still numerous attempts across the country to make English the official language of the United States. In an MSNBC report, Alex Johnson writes that “The United States has no official language, but 28 states have declared English their “common” or “official” language. Since January, numerous new initiatives have been introduced at the state, local and federal levels to either declare English the “official language” or to strengthen existing declarations” (Johnson). To sum up their argument, “A nation of immigrants needs a national language,” Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., said last month in introducing legislation that would make English the “national language” (Johnson). Opponents of English only legislation say the movement is motivated by anti-immigrant sentiment and is undeniably racist. The current tendency to declare English as the official language of the United States is based on a fear that we are being invaded by “foreign groups” that will somehow change us as a nation. We feel that we must draw a line somewhere. To some, that means declaring English the official language of the U.S.

I accept that people have opinions different from mine about this topic. There are people who do make reasonable arguments in favor of this argument. According to their website, “U.S.ENGLISH, Inc. is the nation's oldest, largest citizens' action group dedicated to preserving the unifying role of the English language in the United States” (U.S. English). U.S. English says that “Declaring English the official language is essential and beneficial for the U.S. government and its citizens. Official English unites Americans, who speak more than 322 languages (2000, U.S. Census), by providing a common means of communication; it encourages immigrants to learn English in order to use government services and participate in the democratic process; and it defines a much-needed common sense language policy” (U.S. English).

One idea of the Official English movement is that if everyone speaks the same language, it facilitates assimilation and saves the government money. If we duplicate government services in multiple languages, there is no incentive to learn English. If people don’t learn English they develop their own cultural enclaves instead of assimilating, possibly causing racial and ethnic conflicts. Making English the official language is supposed to prevent this. However, teaching people English as a second language would not completely eliminate the need for forms in other languages. Even native English speakers can have trouble understanding government forms, so it has to be a bigger challenge for people who speak English as a second language. Providing forms in other languages ensures that people can fill out important documents correctly. I also do not believe that everyone should have to assimilate into one culture. Diverse cultural backgrounds constitute who we are as a nation. We should promote and celebrate them. As long as people respect the laws there should not be a problem.

Another idea of the Official English movement is that it will empower immigrants. If immigrants can learn English they can get a better education, better jobs, and be more productive members of society. The problem with this idea is that while English-only legislation does force people to learn English, it does not generally include any provision for the classes that will teach people the language. “The ACLU believes that “English Only” laws are inconsistent with the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. For instance, immigrants may not be able to defend themselves in a courtroom. Laws that have the effect of eliminating courtroom translation severely jeopardize the ability of people on trial to follow and comprehend the proceedings” (The American Civil Liberties Union).

English-only legislation does not explicitly promote stereotypes, but it does have the effect of causing people to disparage people who speak languages other than English. For example, some people assume that all non-English speaking Americans are illegal immigrants who should not be here. English-only legislation reinforces the argument that speaking another language is a negative trait.

The United States of America has always been a country of linguistic, ethnic and religious diversity. It was founded on the principals of having the freedom to choose. My Elementary Spanish professor, SeƱora Curtis, does not believe that the United States should declare an official language. She feels that “The United States should be what it supposedly represents, a refuge for all races whose languages should be respected as well as their cultures” (Curtis).

I agree completely. The use of ancestral language is an inalienable right and the country should not have a single official language, just as it has no official religion. To declare an official language would be a huge regression for the United States in freedom, liberty and justice for all.

Works Cited

Central Intelligence Agency. "The World Factbook." 2009. Central Intelligence Agency. 24 November      2009 .
Clinton, William J. "EXECUTIVE ORDER 13166." 11 August 2000. United States Department of             Justice: Civil Rights Division. 24 November 2009      .
Curtis, Senora Julianne. Should English Be Declared the Official Language of the U.S.? Shannon McMillan. 1 December 2009.
English First. 2009. 24 November 2009 .
Johnson, Alex. "Pro-English Measures Being Revived Across U.S." 15 June 2009. MSNBC. 24    November 2009 .
ProEnglish: The English Language Advocates. 24 November 2009 .
The American Civil Liberties Union. "ACLU Briefing Paper Number 6 "English Only"." The 'Lectric         Law Library. 24 November 2009 .
The Center for Immigration Studies. 2009. 24 November 2009 .
The Federation for American Immigration Reform. 2009. 24 November 2009 .
"The Official Language of the U.S. and its Impact on the Translation Industry." 2007. Strictly Spanish,       LLC. 24 November 2009 .
U.S. Census Bureau. The 2009 Statistical Abstract. 24 November 2009   .
U.S. English. 2009. 24 November 2009 .

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