Proposing an Official Language

I’ll admit that I’m a white guy who is all too rapidly approaching middle age and doesn’t get a lot of things, and at the risk of sounding even more clueless than usual, one of those is why so many people are against an official language for the United States. Unlike a lot of people, I really don’t have a problem with it and why it makes news when people want to create an official language really baffles me.

Of course my support comes from the assumption that the official language is English. If the official language is Albanian, I might take issue. Nothing against the Albanians, mind you – I just don’t speak the language. It would also seem to make sense that the language of the majority would be the most logical choice, but then our government and logic don’t always go together, do they?

Don’t get me wrong here. Unlike a lot of people, I don’t care if you want to speak your language in your home or even on the street. But I see no reason whatsoever why the government should be responsible for the costs involved in printing things in 24 different languages because you don’t choose to learn the dominant language in the country in which you choose to live (this can be in the United States or elsewhere).

I don’t pretend to be an expert on immigration, so I won’t touch that subject, except as it relates to the fact that if you choose to relocate to a new country, legally or otherwise, learn to speak the language. And I’ll even stay away from the whole argument about heritage too, as I don’t mind if you want to recognize where you came from.

But let’s just be a bit realistic. I understand that the color of your skin is different than mine. However, if you were born in the same hospital as I was, the fact that three or four generations ago your ancestors came from a different continent has increasingly little to do with it, and makes you just as much an African American as I am a European American. And frankly, if I went around trying to get people to call me a European American, people would look at me like I’m insane.

And just so we’re clear, I have no problem whatsoever if you want to acknolwedge your heritage. But the more divisive these things get, the worse the problem will get. Just use your imagination. Once I start demanding that people call me by my proper designation of European American, some other goofball will want to be called an Eastern European American, and then someone else will want to be known as a Southeastern European American. Does it ever end?

That’s a rhetorical question. You don’t have to answer. Even if you don’t believe me, look no further than the most recent season of Survivor, in hot water for proposing that teams will initially be split along racial lines.

9 Replies to “Proposing an Official Language”

  1. I’ve been meaning to make a comment here, but I keep forgetting to do so. I read an article a while back that mentioned how when families immigrate to the US, usually within three generations, the original language (Spanish in the article) will die out.

    Unfortunately, the article in question is no longer available online, and I’m not really sure who did the study to begin with, but it sounds like it makes sense. I still think that making an official language is a good idea, and I don’t object to people speaking other languages – but they really need to be able to speak the official one.

    For instance, we went to Costa Rica recently and while there are a few things there printed in English, most everything is in Spanish, as that’s the language – even though a bunch of gringos are settling in the country. It just doesn’t make sense to do otherwise!

  2. Just a comment. I am a native spanish speaker who lives in PR. I agree that an official language is a good idea. However, I don’t see anything wrong with having material printed in additional languages.

    I belive that foreign nationals that choose to make the USA home, will eventually learn English. If not them, certainly their children, just like many thousand of immigrants who came to the USA before us. We have the best and greatest country in the World. We can afford to make our friends from other countries who will eventually be our neighbors, welcomed.
    Best regards, Julian

  3. And it’s a good point. But to take that example, to punish me by requiring my taxes to furnish materials to allow someone the privilege of obtaining their license, whereby they can then drive, wreck their car, perhaps endanger others and then cause me further fiscal harm because they can’t communicate well? That seems equally excessive.

    You are aware of the risks you are taking, and I commend you for it. I do not wish harm upon you in your endeavor (nor do I wish harm upon anyone in particular, for that matter). In a perfect world, I may feel differently. I’m just thinking that there are better ways to solve this problem.

    In the meantime, I am simply saying that if they choose to take this path, they should be the ones who are responsible for picking up the tab and not everyone else. An official language may be a way to deal with the issue.

    Latin may of course be another, but as our country rapidly ages, your point of learning new things comes back into play. Using binary could be an option as well, and I can’t help but think that if nothing else, a stream of ones and zeros would certainly slow us all down quite a bit!

  4. I always said we should all just learn Latin. That way everyone has to learn a new language and thus no one culture/country is favored. [Except possibly the Greeks, but I don’t think anyone there speaks in Latin, as it is a “dead” language.]

    I’m not saying that being able to speak in the native tongue of a country does not have its advantages and would benefit everyone, I’m just suggesting that if one chooses not to learn the language then their punishment is that, possibly life-threatening, inconvenience.

    For example, this fall I’m traveling abroad to visit a friend in Southeast Asia. By then she may have mastered a few words or phrases in the native language but certainly I am without any knowledge of the language. If we get seperated and I need aid, I go there knowing full well that I will most likely be unable to communicate unless I can find an English speaker. It is a risk I am willing to take.

    To further punish me by not allowing me to do other things while there, especially if I decided to live there, seems excessive.

    It seems like double punishment.

  5. Rob, you raise an interesting point there that I didn’t previously, and that is the difference between driving and driving tests. Recent changes in North Carolina law mean that if someone takes a test, they can drive for as long as eight years before they have to take another. That might be the subject of a future post, but isn’t really relevant here.

    I’m speaking more to the idea of providing exams in different languages. If someone can’t speak English well enough to pass an exam (which currently is a legal requirement to drive), perhaps they shouldn’t be able to drive. That’s the only point. For if they should be driving along, they may be able to get by in most cases. But what if they can’t?

    A stop sign is a relatively recognizable shape (and color), even if the word used is different. Traffic patterns can help too. But what happens when a police officer pulls someone over and tries to talk to them and can’t?

    Or what if that person is in a wreck and they can’t communicate with anyone because they can’t speak the language, nor can anyone in the vehicle? My family and I were actually witnesses to a pretty vicious, but thankfully not fatal, incident on I-85 a while back with just such a description.

    Not a single person in the car could speak English. Not even broken English. Luckily, the car managed to protect them enough that they weren’t in critical condition, a lot of people stopped and we managed to get some help there quickly so it wasn’t an issue.

    If that wasn’t the case, and someone needed to talk to them? It may have turned out very differently. Is this the answer? Perhaps. But it seems that sharing a common language may make some amount of sense. Is the answer that I be required to speak Spanish too? Perhaps.

    But this great big melting pot of ours is going to have to find some common ground somewhere, and English seems to be the piece with the largest foothold, so it seems to me that it may make the most sense to start there.

    Andy, binary may work too. 🙂

  6. Chad,

    I think your point about driving is a poor choice of examples. If I am deaf yet am still capable of mastering the rules and skills necessary, the government will indeed grant me the privilege to drive even though I am [most likely] unable to understand or speak verbal English.

    Driving an automobile should be concerned only with the skills required to pilot a motor vehicle and have nothing to do with language. There is a reason the various road signs are designed in such a way that literacy is not a requirement. Because honestly there is no reason that literacy should be a requirement.

    Perhaps there is another example that better illustrates your point, but I haven’t thought of one.

    I think for the most important rights and privileges, unless language and communication is a fundamental and critical element of that right then maintaining a single “official language” is extraneous.

  7. Harry, you make a couple of good points.

    First, I wasn’t speaking (intentionally) of territories. Obviously there is more sense to printing Spanish materials in, say, Puerto Rico, than, for instance, Kansas. A territory has slightly different applications, and not living in one, I can’t speak directly to those applications.

    Second, I agree with your point on learning a second language, and I understand that Americans probably should make more of an effort to learn other languages. However, that’s not really the point.

    For example, if someone wants to drive in the US, they should have to speak English. Even though some states – including NC – make drivers tests available in other languages. If they can’t, then perhaps they simply shouldn’t be able to drive.

    To turn it around, if I decide to live in another country, then I would expect that I should learn the dominant language there, not that they should cater to the fact that I know only English.

    I understand that not everyone can do so. Perhaps then they either shouldn’t come or should come with someone who can help them survive in such a world (family, perhaps) and remove the burden from other people.

  8. You ask why the United States should print materials in other languages?

    First of all the United States has territories like Puerto Rico where the primary language is Spanish. While government workers in PR speak English, just about everybody else speaks Spanish.

    Second the United States has granted refugee status to millions of people from around the world, many of them being Cubans. Refugees don’t have to meet language requirements of other legal immigrants.

    Special provisions for Cuban refugees allows them to become citizens in two years, three years less than regular immigrants and they don’t have to know much English.

    Language experts say if you don’t learn a second language by the time you’re 25, it’s not likely you’ll be able to learn enough of an language to understand a ballot, tax form or other government document, and it’s unrealistic, in most circumstances, to expect people over than 40 or 50 to learn English.

    Switzerland, Belgium and Canada have no problem with two or three official languages, so why should it be a problem to accommodate a small percentage of the population that doesn’t speak the dominant language.

    Also should Americans make more of an effort to learn other languages? Europeans speak two or three languages while most Americans only can speak and write English.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *