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Should english be the official language of the us essay

Though this amendment died in Congress, it reappeared in various iterations over time, passing the House in 1996, and finding Senate approval 10 years later, as part of an immigration reform bill that itself failed to become law. These days, the numbers are similar. In truth, for many English-only advocates, language has become a stand-in for less palatable sentiments, the fear of changing racial demographics among them. The tactic is neither new nor particularly subtle.

  • The English spoken in Georgia, for instance, is very different from that spoken in Massachusetts;
  • Instead of making life easier for new immigrants — assuming this is a goal — such a law would likely just bar them from even more opportunities.

Commonality of speech creates a web of connections that hold a people together. Language is a national identity, to be preserved and protected, generally by the expulsion of others. This might even override considerations of race, as the black cultural theorist Frantz Fanon noted in his book Peau noire, masques blancs 1952published as Black Skin, White Masks in 1967: European immigrants, for example, have a long history of cold reception in the US, their foreign tongues or dialects revealing them as other even when their skin tone did not.

For Hayakawa, author of the first ELA legislation, co-founder of US English, and a Canadian immigrant of Japanese ancestry himself, this reality was acknowledged, if slightly spun. Supporting migrants and their children to maintain their mother tongue is, he suggested, a racist policy, as it presumes that certain immigrants are incapable of learning English.

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No provision is made, however, for non-English-speaking French-Canadians in Maine or Vermont, or Yiddish-speaking Hasidic Jews in Brooklyn, who are white and thus presumed to be able to learn English without difficulty.

But the point is well-taken. Speaking English, they might argue, does not guarantee humanity in the eyes of individuals or — perhaps more importantly — systems. Being able to communicate in English with police officers, for instance, has not kept young black males from filling the rosters of the US penal complex. They further argued that, since Ebonics was structured and spoken like any other language, its place in school texts was no more or less arbitrary than Standard English or Spanish.

Critics of the plan argued that Ebonics was nothing more than substandard English. It was also irrelevant to the world of employment, so adopting it in the classroom essentially doomed students to lives in the poor neighbourhoods where they grew up. The opposition won out and Ebonics was dropped.

The English spoken in Georgia, for instance, is very different from that spoken in Massachusetts.

Talk the talk

Midwesterners in Wisconsin and Illinois use pronunciations and phrases that sound comical to west Texans, and vice versa. Ebonics was deeply entangled with white perceptions of black otherness, relating to race, class, morality and violence, thus draping it with an added layer of threat.

Even in southern states, a white police officer is more likely to identify with a black driver who speaks regional English in an accent they share, than with one speaking the widely stereotyped urban style. In other words, the other who speaks like me is more likely to win my favour than the other who compounds his otherness by speaking other than me.

  • If the English language were under threat, matters might be different;
  • Dismissing the idea that language was a threat to unity, he concluded;
  • Supporting migrants and their children to maintain their mother tongue is, he suggested, a racist policy, as it presumes that certain immigrants are incapable of learning English;
  • Critics of the plan argued that Ebonics was nothing more than substandard English.

We wear the masks we think other people want to see While Ebonics might be a perfectly intelligible form of English to those who speak it, it goes against the grain of a white-dominated society in which belonging means talking the talk of Standard English. Or that adopting Standard English might feel unreal — using language as a conscious, even self-conscious, performance.

One prerequisite of being an American, as we have seen, is the ability to speak English. Performed with ease or clumsiness, awareness or not, guile or good faith, it is none the less something that must be enacted and portrayed, something that must be realized. We wear the masks we think other people want to see.

Such thinking feeds directly into a more basic question of US identity: Should those who come to US shores assimilate to US culture, or maintain their distinctive cultural markers?

The question however is too simplistic: To the extent that America has a national culture, it has been shaped by elements that immigrants brought with them. To a significant degree, these were absorbed into an expanding American-ness.

While being absorbed, however, they maintained traces of their ancestry. Fidelity to a migrant past is not inherently threatening to a national future. It would be false to think that there is no price to be paid for those migrants who cannot communicate in English. Here as elsewhere, people who are isolated by language tend — much like poor people, or victims of sexual assault, for example — to get blamed for their condition. Immigrants to the US who cannot or will not learn to speak English are necessarily isolated from their English-speaking fellows.

  • Eric Miller is assistant professor in communication studies at Bloomsburg University of Pennsylvania;
  • Dismissing the idea that language was a threat to unity, he concluded;
  • I have lived this issue, and it is incomprehensible to me that anyone would oppose legislation which codifies the language policy for this country;
  • Critics of the plan argued that Ebonics was nothing more than substandard English;
  • Instead of making life easier for new immigrants — assuming this is a goal — such a law would likely just bar them from even more opportunities;
  • The tactic is neither new nor particularly subtle.

The non-speaker is powerless to contest whatever conclusions they draw. Language is an organic force, and difficult to control. The troublesome example of official French policy in Quebec offers a cautionary tale One promising avenue for integrating non-speakers comes in the form of bilingual immersion education.

In southern California, home to a broad diversity of ethnicities and languages, such programmes are proliferating. Such programmes offer a strong rejoinder to the absolutist stance of English-only advocates such as Mujica, who struck a heavy-handed chord during his most recent Congressional testimony, saying in his slow Chilean drawl: I have lived this issue, and it is incomprehensible to me that anyone would oppose legislation which codifies the language policy for this country.

Instead of making life easier for new immigrants — assuming this is a goal — such a law would likely just bar them from even more opportunities. Likewise, since non-speakers would be further stigmatised, their nativist detractors could claim legal vindication for every exclusionary push.

This is Alabama, they might say, we speak English. The troublesome example of official French policy in Quebec offers a cautionary tale. The US is so much larger, home to hundreds of millions of people and their myriad cultural traditions. Enforcement brings other problems, too, not least ideological ones; many supporters of Official English are political conservatives, critically opposed to government intervention in the lives of citizens.

If imposition is to be avoided as a rule, then federal speech codes must surely qualify. And since laws are valid only to the degree that they can be enforced, language law is bound to be tenuous at best.

If the English language were under threat, matters might be different. But any honest appraisal of the situation in the US must concede that it simply is not. Dismissing the idea that language was a threat to unity, he concluded: Eric Miller is assistant professor in communication studies at Bloomsburg University of Pennsylvania.

He is a regular contributor at the Religion Dispatches blog.