Language Police flunk teachers from Estonia to Arizona

Dennis Baron debaron at ILLINOIS.EDU
Tue Jun 8 20:19:25 UTC 2010

There's a new post on the Web of Language:  Language Police flunk  
teachers from Estonia to Arizona

Government language inspectors are fanning out across Estonia to  
ensure that the nation’s teachers are speaking good, error-free  
Estonian. And the same thing is going on in Arizona, where state  
officials are monitoring teachers to check for foreign accents and  
grammatical mistakes. There are distinct parallels between the  
language police in Estonia and Arizona, whose motto is to protect and  
serve the language—Estonian in one case, English in the other—not  
those who speak it.

In Estonia, instructors whose Estonian isn’t good enough to pass a  
twenty-minute interview get warnings from the language police, and  
those flunking a second time can be fined or even lose their jobs.  
Arizona officials deny rumors that teachers in the state are being  
removed from classrooms for speaking English poorly, though they  
acknowledge that inspectors have identified several dozen teachers  
with “pronunciation problems,” the educational euphemism for Spanish  
accents, something they don’t permit in classes where the students are  
still acquiring English.

The problem in Estonia is that many teachers speak only Russian, the  
language of Estonia’s former Soviet masters. During the Soviet years,  
Russian was not only the language of Estonia’s political bosses, it  
was also the language of the nation’s cultural elite and the medium of  
instruction in the nation’s top schools. But with the fall of the  
Soviet Union in 1991, Russian began to be abandoned or forcibly erased  
in Estonia as well as in other former Soviet satellites, to the  
chagrin of the large numbers of Russian speakers left behind when the  
Red Army retreated.

The problem in Arizona isn’t Russian, but Spanish. Spanish speakers  
predate Anglos in Arizona, which was part of the territory ceded to  
the United States in 1848 after the Mexican War. Despite its long  
history as the language of government and culture in the American  
Southwest, some English speakers now think of Spanish as language  
poverty, illiteracy, and illegal immigration. Newt Gingrich caused a  
furor a few years ago when he called Spanish the language of the  
ghetto, while English was the language of getting ahead.

To learn about more parallels between Arizona and Estonia, read the  
rest of this post 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:

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