Language
May 23, 2006

I've seen a lot of U.S. blogs talking about the current issues with legal and illegal immigration and the constant complaint that immigrants do not speak English. I'm not going to get all political on this because this is not a political blog. However, I am a teacher, so I just want to take a moment to explain something that a lot of folks are apparently not aware of.

The United States, at this time, does not have an official language. Most countries have a law or edict which declares one language "the" language of that country. One story goes that our Founding Fathers decided to leave it open since we had so many immigrants from so many different lands and this would further encourage the melting pot of America. The Federalist Papers were written at least partially in German ... one suggestion was to use Hebrew as the official language since it was purportedly closer to the Garden of Eden. Lots of stories, but clearly one thing stands out: English was not the legal, official language at the time of the Constitution.

Indeed, the fact of the matter is that there is no one legal language for the United States. Sure, if we go by tradition, English is "the" language of the U.S. And if you want to be understood in most places in the U.S., you should know English.

However, legally, there's no need to speak English. In fact, many of our ancestors did not speak English upon arrival. I know half my family spoke Lithuanian instead of English. Further back, on the other side of the family, they spoke Scots-Gaelic. Today, all of their offspring speak English instead of those "mother tongues." So, why is it that as a country right now we seem to want to force everyone to speak the same language and ignore a tradition of letting the older generation get by ... and letting the younger generations be the bridge between both languages.

Well, on the one hand, just because it's always been done "this way," does that make it right? On the other hand, our legal system is based on just that theory (the theory of precedence).

Honestly, I have more than a small streak of the anarchist in me, so I like the mix of languages. But, I also have a practical side which says, hey, we're too large an entity any more ... and too regulated ... to get away with a hodge podge of languages in which our laws might not be understood.

At this time, the Senate has passed two separate bills trying to somehow come up with a solution. It's still a bit of a mess since there are two bills and they'd have to be combined into one in the House before anything could be settled. But this congressional debate has been going on for at least the last 10 years without any resolution, so I'm not holding my breath just because it's being considered again.

Basically, I'm not coming down either pro or con on this. I can see both sides of the argument. I'm a bit of a history nut, so not having an official, national language appeals to me on one level. But I'm also a pragmatist who thinks it would be easier to have an official, national language.

I just want to take a moment to point out to those who believe that immigrants (legal or otherwise) are somehow not speaking the national language are jumping the gun a bit. We don't have one (yet). We have a language which is common to most areas, but there is not a federal, legal reason for anyone to learn English. Certainly a pragmatic reason to learn it! But not a legal one.

For now, though, I'm going to enjoy the multi-lingual signs in English and Chinese and Spanish and French depending on where in the U.S. you are. I hope we don't ever lose that. :)

UPDATE: comments closed because of spam ... if you want to leave me a comment, please email it to me using the contact me button ... I was tired of deleting spam comments on this particular entry and closed the comments, but I'll manually post them for you if you want to continue the discussion.

Posted by Red Monkey at May 23, 2006 5:31 AM | Struggles | | StumbleUpon Toolbar Stumble |

 

Moody Loner said:

Just stopping by to say hi and give you a banner click. Oh, and the little one likes the Incredibles poster.

I'd put something in another language here, but the only other language I'm currently fluent in is l33t.

May 23, 2006 8:16 AM

 

Gem said:

I have definite issues with illegal immigrants demanding rights and priviledges that have been previously held for citizens. But I think this has nothing to do with whether or not a person speaks English. If you become a citizen of a new country, you better damn well at least understand the most common language or you will get screwed -- I'm sure not emmigrating to Poland anytime soon, lol! But to make one language an official language or outlawing another -- that is going too far IMHO. What you speak at home with your family, or in a neighborhood that is primarily one culture (I'm thinking about Mexicantown or Greektown in Detroit) is your business -- this country is made up of immigrants and that will never change. Creating an 'official' language is not going to solve any of the problems of illegal immigration, what a stupid solution!

Red Monkey says: Yeah, notice I didn't really say anything about the illegal/legal immigration bit ... cuz I don't wanna get into the heated political debates going on about that right now! :) I just want people who talk about "our national language" know that it might be the most common language in the U.S. ... but that we do not currently have a "national language" per se.
May 23, 2006 10:51 AM

 

seramarlowe said:

I saw Tucker Carlson (where has the stupid bowtie gone?) the other day speaking on this subject... and he said that "a country with more than one official language is a country that is at war with itself." As far as I know, Canadian citizens aren't gunning each other down in the streets... It's that kind of ignorant speechifying on this issue that gets to me the most. Don't even get me started on the people who constantly mention the word "invasion."

~~ BA 142

May 23, 2006 1:04 PM

 

marie b. said:

Thank you.

May 24, 2006 7:00 AM

 

michele said:

I think the issue that makes people mad is the waving
of the mexican flag.Mexico has tough immigration laws
and they want to school us on ours,Hell No.Besides
on the native american indian can claim this land,but
they have casino's to keep them quiet.
Also thanks i'm just now noticing your generous
gift.

May 24, 2006 8:28 PM
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