The American Dilemma and How We Can Fix It

ON LANGUAGE

I recently commented on a post by one of my favorite bloggers on Word Press, Sylver Blaque.  She and I normally find ourselves in agreement but in the case of this particular post regarding requiring English as a language for all people who live in this country, we disagreed.

I supported the idea and would like to explain my rationale.

In my very early posts I often spoke of my grandmother who came to the United States at the age of 9 and spoke no English.  Thanks to her aunt and a dictionary she learned the language.  She received no formal education as she had to work to support herself and contribute to her aunt and uncle who provided her food and lodging.  This was not unusual for the immigrants who came here at the turn of the 20th century.

In a recent post https://juwannadoright.wordpress.com/2012/07/21/be-afraidbe-very-afraid/, I addressed the requirements we hold for those who have immigrated to the United States and mentioned that one of the requirements to be accepted for citizenship is that these resident aliens must pass a test about how the government is structured and who is currently serving in public office.

It is interesting that at a time when we are becoming more “inclusive” in terms of allowing people to be informed about matters of public interest in languages with which they may be more conversant, it is a requirement that this test is given in English and only in English.

Apparently, on the one hand, the Federal government recognizes the importance of learning English – even as other authorities including the Department of Justice, require that we disseminate information to those who live here, whose primary language is not English, in their native language.

Several months ago, Nevada conducted a primary election.  Prior to this I received a booklet which detailed the offices which were being contested and the candidates for those offices.  This booklet was printed in both English and Spanish.

As I read the booklet I noticed the following notification, “Clark County has been informed by the DOJ that in the future all election booklets shall be printed in English, Spanish and Tagalog (to accommodate our Filipino voters).  Those who would like to receive this booklet in Tagalog may call xxx-xxxx to receive a copy.”

I have an objection to this on two levels.  The first is environmental.  We are now using twice as much paper as if these booklets were prepared only in English and we will soon expand that to three times as much paper.

The second relates to the level of information and knowledge to which the electorate will have access if they do not speak English.  As voting is one of the most fundamental rights and responsibilities we have as citizens, does it not make sense that we should understand and be able to listen to those who are running for office if we are to make an informed decision on who has the best vision for the future of America?

I know for a fact that the Presidential and Vice-Presidential debates will be broadcast in the language of those who are running – and that is English – not
Spanish or Tagalog.  So if a person cannot understand those debates and what the candidates are saying, how can they make an informed decision about who is worthy of their vote?

As Americans ventured abroad, travelling in Europe in the last century, we coined the term, “Ugly Americans” to describe those who were disdainful of our European friends who didn’t speak English.  We expected them to speak  our language.  We considered that our presumptive right.

How foolish – but these were only visitors in foreign lands.  I believe that had some of these decided to relocate to Aix-en-Provence or Venezia, they would have learned French or Italian in order to converse with the locals.

Is it unreasonable to expect less of those who have come to live in America – to learn our official language, English?  It was good enough for the immigrants of the last century and I have to say that seems like a reasonable requirement to me.

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Comments on: "ON LANGUAGE" (4)

  1. Well stated. Thank you!

  2. Language is one of the unifying forces in a country. When I chose to live and work in India for a while it was important for me to use the language of the people so I could be effective in my work and be accepted by the people socially. That principle should apply universally. One of the things that fragments a society is an encouragement to stay in a little migrant cultural group and be marginalized in the new society such people choose to live in. When that happens they bring the culture they walked away from with them and then wonder why they feel out of step and develop a fortress mentality. One of the reasons why western societies are so fragmented today is they encourage cultural diversity to the extreme and are constantly at war within their society by way of consequence. To be assimilated and accepted one must make an effort to respect the culture lived in, and that includes learning the language sufficiently to be able to communicate.

    • Thank you, Ian for your insightful comments based on your experience.

      I totally agree. I remember that even as a young soon-to-be college student, the Parisians I met on my journey (reputed to be unfriendly to Americans) seemed genuinely eager to help me as I made the attempt to communicate in my pidgen- French.

      If we cannot talk to each other – there is no basis for understanding. And it just seems reasonable that we should do so in the predominate language of the region in which we find ourselves.

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