Sunday, May 09, 2010

Lingua Fracture

Today I logged into Facebook and opened my news feed to see this status post from one of my FB friends (who is an old schoolmate):

WELCOME TO THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA Press 1 for English. Press 2 to disconnect until you learn to speak English. And remember only two defining forces have ever offered to die for you, JESUS CHRIST. And the AMERICAN SOLIDER. One died for your soul, the other for your freedom. If you agree... copy and paste in your status on Saturday...

It seems like status posts like this have been appearing a lot lately, no doubt in response to the recent controversy in Arizona. (I already addressed that issue quite enough on my own blog...and it ended with our favorite thread-jacker severing all contact with me and slandering me viciously by name online. That will be all, thank you.) Even without the militant Christian message, and even without all the "like" names attached to that post, there is something very disturbing about this. The first part says basically, "Speak English or get out of the US." This is a theme that has been spreading like wildfire of late, perhaps even the crusade du jour. The obvious target here is illegal Spanish-speaking immigrants, but this goes a lot deeper than that by its very nature.

The United States of America is actually one of few countries in the world that does NOT have a designated official language. It is also one of very, very few countries in the world that doesn't have a second language, official or otherwise. Go just about anywhere in the world, and you'll find that schools teach a particular foreign language as a compulsory subject. In most countries that second language is English, though in some places it's French, Russian, or even Japanese. The local governments most likely offer services in that language, too. In the case of Japan, where I live, the second language is English. (I speak Japanese fluently, but I do appreciate those English-language services!) The fact that English is the second language in most countries of the world, including Russia and China, really makes things easier, not only for foreign tourists but also international business. Go to many parts of the world and you'll find English-speaking ex-pats living and working there, sometimes with little if any command of the local native tongue. So why is it that the US shouldn't return the favor to some degree by offering services in at least one non-English language?

On that note, I remember how amused if not outraged people were when both France and the province of Quebec in Canada became "franco-nazis" and made it a crime to post public notices in languages other than French. Why, then, are so many Americans now starting to become "anglo-nazis" in a similar vein?

I'm sure there are a lot of people ready and eager to come at me with wordy lectures about illegal immigrants living on welfare and eating up tax dollars, etc., but that's not really the point here, is it? The point is this: Where on the Statue of Liberty does it follow "Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free," with, "as long as you speak English"?


Don Snabulus said...

Re: Immigrants and Welfare...not only is it not the point, it isn't factually correct either. Americans may be shocked to note that illegals contribute to SSI with their fake social security numbers, but are not eligible. Also, they generally can't get welfare because it would expose their illegal status.

I like not having an official language and I have grown accustomed to hearing many languages out here on our edge of the Pacific Rim. As far as the rest, we just have to manage the stupid, because the stupid never goes away. It is particularly more difficult right now because it controls most of the megaphone.

Arkonbey said...

I sort of agree with a single official language in basic principal. It makes life easier (I talked to some members of the Canadian forces about how annoying it is to have everything bi-lingual. Imagine every stencil on an aircraft, say in two languages.)

But, we do have a single UNOFFICIAL language. Our road signs are in English,etc. However, it's not some sort of requirement.

What gets me about the rhetoric in that status is what they are saying is not "speak English" but "Don't speak Spanish!". That and most of the ignoramuses tho support it would give someone with heavily accented English a hard time, even though I'd bet that the supporters are mono-lingual.

That, and why do 'small government' people seem to want government intervention in things like language, religion and dissent (I'm looking at you, flag burning amendment proponents)?

Pandabonium said...

A nation built by immigrants becoming intolerant of same. Interesting.
When some of my German ancestors arrived in the USA (second half of the 19th Century) there was an area marked by the three cities Cincinnati, Milwaukee, and St. Louis. It was known as the "German Triangle". There were so many German immigrants roughly within its boundaries many public schools offered all classes in German language.

People adapt over time and become an integral part of the fabric of society, without having to lose their identity and roots. If they must first pass a litmus test of language ability, (social and political attitudes?) first, it will never happen and they will remain outsiders for generations.

No one benefits from that outcome.

Pandabonium said...

A very different discussion than language, but related is population growth and immigration in that regard.

Here is a very interesting discussion about this issue by some (in my opinion) very smart folks:

Tomorrow's America - A Discussion of Immigration #2

food for thought

The Moody Minstrel said...

On the other hand, it has been brought to my attention (and it definitely seems true) that an awful lot of people spewing jingoist and anti-immigrant ooze don't seem to be very proficient in the English language, or so their lousy spelling and grammar would seem to indicate.

Pandabonium said...