Against an Establishment of Language

One of the proposals that keeps coming up on legislative agendas all over the country is making English the official language of the state/nation (I noticed it recently looking over the agenda of the Georgia House). Not only does this phenomenon seem to be largely an anti-Mexican move, which is almost motivation enough for me to oppose it, there are several reasons why even anti-Mexican conservatives should be against it.

1. Historically speaking, all the previous immigrant waves in the United States were absorbed into the English language without this measure. I grant that there are still pockets where English isn't spoken, like the various Chinatowns, but these are only small fractions of the population and the majority of them (at least of the youth) can probably speak English anyway. I imagine kids from Chinatown are educated in English.

2. Who really cares anyway? The large influx of Spanish speakers into Atlanta has produced, in addition to a larger, more dedicated labor pool, one extra step in ATM transactions, the one where you press one button for English and one button for Spanish. Even if English becomes the official language, there will still be a demand for Spanish language service, and since I can't imagine that the law would prohibit it entirely, that step will still be there.

3. For people who worry that people who don't speak English will start demanding legal services in other languages, they can take it easy. Cases like this have come up in LA County, where there are lots of immigrants (assaulting the titanic California economy like icebergs, no doubt), and last I heard, they were still going to English-speaking courts. Also last I heard, English wasn't the official language and this still happened. When I heard this it wasn't Spanish in question, but some south Asian language; it's possible that if a language has enough speakers they could force the courts to try them in that language, but if so, why shouldn't such a large community be able to have a court that represents them?

4. The most abstract reason, but the one that first came to my mind when I saw the legislative agenda, is that if the government at some level declares English the official language within its territory, won't they have to start controlling English? Languages change all the time (inevitably, says Steven Pinker), and it's not enough to say that English is the official language, whatever English is. Do we mean English vocabulary? That changes almost every day. Do we mean English grammar rules? Those are ignored every day. Since there isn't already an official Academy of the English Language, wouldn't this kind of law ultimately lead to its establishment? Otherwise people could skirt the law by saying that there isn't an official definition of English. If a network of professionals and academics in universities make up a looser version of the Academy, do they all have to agree? Is there a majority rule, and what happens when the majority changes its mind? Ironically, if this happened it would be likely that political liberals (who compose most English departments) would be in charge of the definitions and wouldn't be as knee-jerk anti-Mexican as the supporters of the law had in mind.

Only one thing can come from government control of language. Debasement of the language. Look what happens right now with government-speak. There aren't dead innocents, there is collateral damage. You're not [insert race term], you're [insert ever-changing list of race terms]. You don't describe things accurately anymore, you use the blandest language possible. George Orwell wrote a famous essay on this point, and it's well worth a read now (here).

If English is so important, do we really want this fate for it?

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Here in Vancouver we have an

Here in Vancouver we have an eclectic mix of roughly 30% European, 30%Asian, and 30%Indian with 10% other(haha). There are a certian group of the electorate that want to force all immigrants to learn english, and a smaller group like myself that don't really care what they do, and in fact, enjoy all of it. Some(immigrants) actively seek out esl and others have no intention or need to learn english and stay within the group they immigrated with, a la the 1800's chinese.(BTW, the japanese who immigrated here have always integrated and co-mingled to the point where i would consider them more 'Canadian' than me!) I live and work in an area called chinatown and most transactions are slightly difficult and involve a lot of handwaving etc. But guess what? I enjoy it and it gets done. how are you going to make a 75 year old woman learn english? The only time this discussion ever arises is when i'm with a subgroup of my friends who i'll call 'rednecks' and who i think are parroting the ideas instilled in them by their blue haired racist mother or father. they rarely interact with the people they are complaining about and most don't even live anywhere near an area where the 'problems' exist. its an age old problem and is certain to cause much consternation in the 'old south' know what i'm sayin!

I don't know about making it

I don't know about making it the official language, but perhaps it could do some good in heading off "language discrimination" cases. I haven't heard of any yet, but I sense them coming. Those annoying commercials I see on TV supporting anti-assimilation behavior almost make me wish english was our official language (or at least put into law as the language used in courts and our many bureaucracies ). It doesn't seem prudent in our culture of victimization to leave this avenue open (Of course bringing this issue to the national scene could possibly be a spark that starts that type of thing up, so who knows).

One argument for

One argument for pro-mexicans, and pro-english, is that non-english speakers are functionally second-class citizens in this country.

Not an argument for governmental force, of course.

Something to bear in mind.

Something to bear in mind. Aside from the ascendance of Anglo countries economically and militarily for the past few centuries the other reason for the use of the English language internationally is its flexibility. The fact that you can ignore grammar rules, make up new words, etc. is a good thing. The language can continuously evolve. Languages where the government tried to control and manage its development (French, for example) cannot evolve as needed. Consider the impact of that on the English language if a government were to attempt to control it.

Making English the official

Making English the official language of the U.S. is like making North America the official continent of the U.S.
It doesn't change anything, but it makes you look like a jackass.

If this gives me a chance to

If this gives me a chance to execute people who use "it's" for "its", confuse "your" and "you're", and use "who" even when "whom" is correct, I fully support this measure.

- Josh

Qwest, youre from Vancouver?

Qwest, youre from Vancouver? Me too, which suburb?


English as the Official

English as the Official Language, Revisited
Catallarchy has a post critical of the "English as Official Language" movement, which I support and about which I have blogged previously.

In places where English is

In places where English is the official language, how does one order a burrito? Are we supposed to say "meat and beans and cheese in a flour or corn wrap"? That seems so... French. Or German. Can one rent a limousine? Is it impossible to refer to al-Qaida by name? And what about the names of most of our states? I don't think "Idaho" has Anglo-Saxon parentage.

As Randall noted, making English official is one thing. But determining what English is, is another thing entirely. Perhaps the English-only types should read Poul Anderson's "Uncleftish Beholding" before deciding what English-only really means.

BTW, for the Vancouver contingent, I spent my formative years in the White Rock area, but moved to the States in 1976.

The argument for English as

The argument for English as Official Language is to prevent explodign expense in government/legal circles paying for translators in the course of accomodating non-English speakers.

I'm tribalist enough to say "non" to the extra expense in accomodation.

Fine then, let it be done on

Fine then, let it be done on the local level.

I vote for unrestricted

I vote for unrestricted immigration and no official language. The insanity of creating a criminal class out of people that we WANT to have in this country to do work that the natives don't want to do is over the top.

Stephan, i'm on the East

Stephan, i'm on the East Side and work in ChinaTown. I'm a
Romanian/Metis so i'm the smallest minority in Vancouver. i'm the only one!!!haha. i want my own bank machine readout goddammit!:mad:

Qwest, Im amazed! A

Qwest, Im amazed! A libertarian that actually lives in the welfare loving eastside. No offense to your neighborhood intended of course......No, wait full offence intended, that eastside is a real shithole, full of the the worst dregs and by products of state intervention. No offence
:razz: You are a libertarian type yes?, my email, I dont know any Vancouver libertarians