official English legislation

Laurence Horn laurence.horn at YALE.EDU
Mon Jun 4 00:16:37 UTC 2001

At 7:42 AM -0400 6/4/01, Grant Barrett wrote:
>On dimanche 3 juin 2001 15:31, Douglas Bigham <TlhovwI at AOL.COM> wrote:
>>Also, is there precedent for such harsh claims against the
>>bill?  Has this particular type of legislation been passed
>>elsewhere in the world and shown to add to racist sentiment in
>>that nation?  I'm not asking about cases where a language of
>>some 10% or so is elevated to "officiality", or where a common
>>"other" language is adopted for official purposes, but, cases
>>where 70+% of the population has been speaking a language for
>>nearly 200 years, that language is declared as "official", and
>>the subsequent effects add to the impoverishment of the
>>"non-native/non-fluent/non-proficient" speakers?
>I think a good example (if not a perfect one) of the kind of trouble
>that can take
>place is in Indonesia, where ethnic Chinese are said to own 10
>percent of the wealth.
>Among other pro-bias, anti-Chinese laws, one was passed against the
>usage of Chinese
>characters on signage. During the riots last year, ethnic Chinese
>were singled out as
>targets of violence: rape, murder, shop-burning.
>What I believe happened is that official laws against ethnic
>Chinese, and their
>language, helped legitimize the Chinese as targets, accentuating
>pre-existing biases and
>hatred. Given the passage of an official language law, I fore-see
>this happening in
>the US, although on a non-violent level. We already have outrageous
>examples of
>language bias and prejudice even without any kind of government
>I see no advantages to passing such a law and several against it.
>What I see is a
>supposedly innocuous English-as-official law being the stepping
>stone to future
>English-to-the-exclusion-of-other-languages law. Slippery slope
>logic that may be, but I
>believe it. And that would be wrong.
I agree that the passage of an official English language has the
potential to do a lot of damage to our civil society and no obvious
good to the beneficiaries (whoever they are supposed to be), but I'm
not sure the causality Grant depicts in his Indonesia example is that
clear.  When Sukarno was overthrown by the nationalists during the
U.S.-assisted "revolution" leading to the installation of the
murderous and corrupt regime of Suharto, in the events depicted in
the film "The Year of Living Dangerously", somewhere between 100,000
and 1,000,000 ethnic Chinese were massacred in Indonesia, and no
official language law was needed to bring this about during those
riots.  Are there any ads-ers with more specific knowledge of this


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