English As The United States’ Official Language?
June 2, 2011 Leave a comment
A little while ago I became lightly embroiled in an online spat about a Republican proposal that English be made the official language of the United States of America. You see, I actually agree with this idea, because English is already the de facto language of the United States.
- The country originated as a number of British colonies, along the continental east coast.
- English law is the basis for US law.
- All of our country’s founding documents, and the debates and publications arguing for and against them, were in English.
- All of our Presidents have been sworn in and given their inauguration address in English.
- The Star Spangled Banner and our other patriotic and anthemic songs were written and are sung in English.
- All of our Congressional business and judicial procedures are carried out in English.
- At the Oath of Citizenship ceremony, the Oath is taken in English.
Going through the Naturalization process really made this hit home to me. Having to fill out the multitude of forms, obtain the documentary evidence required and the instructions received in various correspondences through the process were all done in English, and all caused at least a moment of confusion or trepidation by me. It made me glad to be a native English speaker.
Trips to the USCIS, (or whatever their acronym they are using this week), offices and the Oath Ceremony re-inforced this feeling, as I witnessed countless immigrants interacting with the USCIS officers in halting English, or through a family member interpreting for them.
At my Oath Ceremony, all forty of us, from twenty-three different countries, took the Oath in English, from the Palestinian great-grandma stood in front of me, to the Russian family across the aisle, to the English lady a few rows in front of me. You can watch this part of the ceremony here.
Yes, English is a tough language to learn, (I’m not sure that any but the most academic English scholar, or grammatician ever fully grasps the language), and the USA is, by its very nature, a “melting pot” of nationalities, but is it really asking too much of the non-English speaking minority to become literate and conversant enough in English?
After all, centuries of immigrants to this country chose to learn English.
If I had moved to a country that was not Anglo-glottal, I would have learnt their language. In fact, I can demonstrate this by example of my only trip “abroad”, a school trip to Boulogne in France. I loved being able, (albeit with the back-up aid of a trusty Berlitz phrase book), to demonstrate to the residents I came into contact with that I had enough respect for them and their country that I wanted to use their most commonly spoken language to engage them, whether I was buying a pastry at the patisserie or asking directions to get there. If I had moved there, I would have used English at home, at every opportunity, but at work, in official business and around French people, I’d have spoken French.
I’m not expecting people to give up the languages of their motherlands. In fact, I’m glad they don’t and any argument that a forced learning of English would destroy the immigrants’ use of these languages just doesn’t hold true for me.
At my sons’ school, there are plenty of pupils of Hispanic heritage. They speak English just as well as my own kids, then go off with their parents at the end of the school day, conversing in Spanish, which is great. In fact, I’m jealous of them and the fact that I am not fluent in another language, which I could be teaching them to speak at home, despite coming from a bilingual part of the UK, Wales.
I love being in an ethnic restaurant and hearing Mexican Spanish, Mandarin, Hindi or Arabic being spoken and thanks to children-oreintated shows like Dora the Explorer and Ni Hao, Kai Lan I might even throw in the odd gracias or xie xie during the course of a meal’s service, (though my reticence to do so is the fear of an attempt of engagement in a conversation in a language of which, I only know one or two phrases).
It will also save a lot of money, because if everyone can speak English, then there’s no need for duplicating forms and information pamphlets/booklets into other languages. After all, if there’s Spanish, French and Tagalog versions, why not Basque, Welsh and Swahili, too? And German and Polish and Mandarin Chinese and Urdu and Italian and Yiddish and…