Speak English, get out of jail free

Joel S. Berson Berson at ATT.NET
Fri Mar 28 02:40:45 UTC 2008

Forced to learn English as an adult?  Cruel and unusual punishment!

(I don't mean to make light of this sentence; I find it appalling too.)


At 3/27/2008 10:16 PM, Dennis Baron wrote:
>There's a new post on the Web of Language:  Speak English, get out of
>jail free
>A Pennsylvania judge has sentenced three Spanish-speaking men to
>learn English or go to jail. The three, who pled guilty to conspiracy
>to commit robbery, will remain free on parole for a year, then take
>an English test. If they fail, then according to Judge Peter Paul
>Olszewski, Jr., it's go directly to jail, do not pass go, do not
>collect $200. And they'll stay in jail for the remaining 20 months of
>their two-year prison term.
>This isn't the first time English has been used as punishment for a
>crime. In June, 1995, an Amarillo, Texas, judge ordered the mother of
>a five-year-old to speak only English to her daughter or lose custody
>of the child. Judge Samuel C. Kiser accused Martha Laureano of child
>abuse for speaking Spanish to the girl, who was about to enter
>kindergarten, adding that English was necessary for the youngster to
>"do good in school." Even worse, the judge added, without English,
>Laureano's daughter would be condemned to a life as a maid.
>When the story broke, there was a national outcry against this
>overreaching and misdirected decision. Judge Kiser, sensing that some
>fence-mending might be appropriate, apologized to maids. But he held
>resolutely to his English-only order.
>While Judge Kiser might have had trouble passing his Pennsylvania
>colleague's English test, judicial mastery of English grammar is not
>the issue here. Nor are the obvious free-speech concerns of cases
>which equate Spanish with child abuse, armed robbery, and other
>serious felonies,
>Instead I want to focus on the practice of a very American form of
>language abuse.
>For many years, young speakers of Spanish, Navajo, Chinese, and other
>minority languages in this country were beaten, humiliated, or given
>detentions if they used their first language in classrooms or on the
>schoolyard. Such punishments did not accelerate the students'
>adoption of English. As the average high schooler chafing under a
>language requirement will attest, you can't make someone speak a
>"foreign" language. Physical force and corporal punishment do even
>less to secure linguistic compliance.....
>read the rest on The Web of Language
>Dennis Baron
>Professor of English and Linguistics
>Department of English
>University of Illinois
>608 S. Wright St.
>Urbana, IL 61801
>office: 217-244-0568
>fax: 217-333-4321
>read the Web of Language:
>The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

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