Speak English, get out of jail free

Wilson Gray hwgray at GMAIL.COM
Sat Mar 29 03:50:03 UTC 2008

Dennis Baron writes:

"...[Y]ou can't make someone speak a "foreign" language [by]
[p]hysical force and corporal punishment ..."

Unfortunately, I beg to differ. These are precisely the methods used
in such countries as France, Spain, Germany, the Netherlands, the
Soviet Union, and the UK, among others, to "unify" these countries
linguistically under a single "national" language. Read the histories
of such languages and "dialects" as Basque, Gascon, Plattdeutsch,
Gaelic in all of its varieties, Cornish, Welsh, French Catalan, French
Flemish, Aragonese, Fries. Closer to home, you may want to read the
history of the Carlisle Indian School. And have you ever wondered why
it is that not the merest trace of any African language is spoken
anywhere in the South? Aboriginal languages are dead or dying in
Australia and in the former Soviet Union not because of anything
that's being done today, but because of what was done to the ancestors
of today's native peoples.


On Thu, Mar 27, 2008 at 10:16 PM, Dennis Baron <debaron at uiuc.edu> wrote:
> ---------------------- Information from the mail header -----------------------
>  Sender:       American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
>  Poster:       Dennis Baron <debaron at UIUC.EDU>
>  Subject:      Speak English, get out of jail free
>  -------------------------------------------------------------------------------
>  There's a new post on the Web of Language:  Speak English, get out of =20=
>  jail free
>  A Pennsylvania judge has sentenced three Spanish-speaking men to =20
>  learn English or go to jail. The three, who pled guilty to conspiracy =20=
>  to commit robbery, will remain free on parole for a year, then take =20
>  an English test. If they fail, then according to Judge Peter Paul =20
>  Olszewski, Jr., it=92s go directly to jail, do not pass go, do not =20
>  collect $200. And they=92ll stay in jail for the remaining 20 months of =20=
>  their two-year prison term.
>  This isn=92t the first time English has been used as punishment for a =20=
>  crime. In June, 1995, an Amarillo, Texas, judge ordered the mother of =20=
>  a five-year-old to speak only English to her daughter or lose custody =20=
>  of the child. Judge Samuel C. Kiser accused Martha Laureano of child =20
>  abuse for speaking Spanish to the girl, who was about to enter =20
>  kindergarten, adding that English was necessary for the youngster to =20
>  =93do good in school.=94 Even worse, the judge added, without English, =20=
>  Laureano=92s daughter would be condemned to a life as a maid.
>  When the story broke, there was a national outcry against this =20
>  overreaching and misdirected decision. Judge Kiser, sensing that some =20=
>  fence-mending might be appropriate, apologized to maids. But he held =20
>  resolutely to his English-only order.
>  While Judge Kiser might have had trouble passing his Pennsylvania =20
>  colleague's English test, judicial mastery of English grammar is not =20
>  the issue here. Nor are the obvious free-speech concerns of cases =20
>  which equate Spanish with child abuse, armed robbery, and other =20
>  serious felonies,
>  Instead I want to focus on the practice of a very American form of =20
>  language abuse.
>  For many years, young speakers of Spanish, Navajo, Chinese, and other =20=
>  minority languages in this country were beaten, humiliated, or given =20
>  detentions if they used their first language in classrooms or on the =20
>  schoolyard. Such punishments did not accelerate the students' =20
>  adoption of English. As the average high schooler chafing under a =20
>  language requirement will attest, you can't make someone speak a =20
>  =93foreign=94 language. Physical force and corporal punishment do even =20=
>  less to secure linguistic compliance.....
>  read the rest on The Web of Language
>  www.uiuc.edu/goto/weboflanguage
>  Dennis Baron
>  Professor of English and Linguistics
>  Department of English                                   =09
>  University of Illinois=09
>  608 S. Wright St.
>  Urbana, IL 61801
>  office: 217-244-0568
>  fax: 217-333-4321
>  www.uiuc.edu/goto/debaron
>  read the Web of Language:
>  www.uiuc.edu/goto/weboflanguage
>  ------------------------------------------------------------
>  The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

All say, "How hard it is that we have to die"---a strange complaint to
come from the mouths of people who have had to live.
 -Sam'l Clemens

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