Official English

Paul Frank paulfrank at POST.HARVARD.EDU
Tue Jun 5 09:11:06 UTC 2001

> It's too bad that repspondents to this list who have only public
> rpress and hearsay information are unwilling to even consider
> professional and scientific results, but we made the list for the
> public, and, if that's what you want, we'll stick to it, but I am now
> even more convinced that this should be a professional list; I spend
> a goodly portion of my professional life working on just such
> misperceptions and misinformation; I'd like to have a professional
> home to keep clear of opinions which I can read every day in my
> home-town newspaper. I suggest we bring the matter of access to this
> list up for discussion again.
> dInIs
> Dennis R. Preston
> Department of Linguistics and Languages
> Michigan State University


I have strong opinions about Official English and English Only laws, but so
far I've kept them to myself because they're just that: opinions. I'll say
this, though: If I were a compiling a dictionary of the English language,
I'd gloss monoglot as a cussword. Just kidding. Being neither a linguist nor
a lexicographer, I try to restrict my postings to this forum to the
proverbial blue moon. But I do enjoy listening to your -- or, rather,
y'all's -- learned exchanges and would hate to be shut out of here. Please
let me stay. I do have a question: what makes you think that professional
linguists are better qualified to speak -- speak intelligently, that is --
about official English laws than sociologists, political scientists, legal
scholars, journalists, or lesser fry like me? That said, I'd like to thank
you for your informative essay on The English Language Unity Act of 2001. I
was a pleasure to read.

As a card-carrying member of the ACLU, I thought you might be interested in
what the ACLU has to say on this issue. You've  probably seen this stuff,
but some members of this list may have missed it:
What's Wrong With "English Only" Laws?
"English Only" laws, which declare English to be the country's official
language and bar government employees from providing non-English language
assistance and services, are inconsistent with both the First Amendment
right to communicate with or petition the government, and the right to
equality. They are also unnecessary and sometimes even dangerous to both
individuals and the public. Currently enforced in eighteen states, some
"English Only" laws are written so broadly that they forbid non-English
government services such as assistance to recipients of benefits,
applications for drivers' licenses, and bilingual education.

Current "English Only" laws are based on the false premise that today's
immigrants who come from Asian and Spanish-speaking countries will not learn
English without government coercion. In fact, the vast majority of Asian and
Latino immigrants are acquiring proficiency in English just as quickly, if
not faster, than earlier generations of Italian, Russian and German
immigrants. Moreover, only 4% of the U.S. population over the age of five
does not speak English.

The problem is not that immigrants are unwilling to learn English, but that
there are not enough available educational resources for them. Today, many
thousands of immigrants throughout the country are on the waiting lists for
adult English classes. English-only laws do nothing constructive to increase
English proficiency, they simply discriminate against and punish those who
have not yet learned English.
End of quote

Here are some ACLU press releases:

ACLU Applauds Two Court Decisions
Supporting Language Rights
Friday, January 15, 1999

ACLU, Native American and Community Groups
Seek to Block Alaska's "English-Only" Law
Friday, February 12, 1999

Saturday, December 2, 2000 -- Judge Delays English-Only From Becoming State

Supreme Court Hears Arguments Today on
English-Only Rule and Censorship of Prisoners
Tuesday, January 16, 2001

Court Ruling Curtails Utah's English-Only Law
But Leaves Confusion in its Wake, ACLU Says
Tuesday, March 5, 2001


Wow. As I was about to hit the send button, a farmer in the field in front
my house called out for salt and a bucket of cold water. A cow was about to
calve. La vaca pario un ternerito, as we say in Spanish. Neither English,
Spanish, nor French (the language spoken in these parts) can convey the
miracle I just saw. The second I poured the water on the calf's head it woke
from its womb dream. The mother is still lying in the field.

Paul Frank
English translation from Chinese, German,
French, Italian, Spanish, and Portuguese
Business, law, and the social sciences
paulfrank at - Thollon, France

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