English-Only laws in AZ

Donald Z. Osborn dzo at BISHARAT.NET
Thu Sep 23 06:47:30 UTC 2004

Thanks, Matthew, for the info and insights. In retrospect I probably stretched
the English fever analogy too far.

Responses to a couple of your comments below.

Don Osborn

Quoting Matthew Ward <mward at LUNA.CC.NM.US>:
> On one issue that we are discussing--the idea that bilingualism or
> multilingulaism is good for an individual, I do think that serious
> progress has been in terms of public attitudes.  It's very rare anymore
> for people to argue that it somehow confuses children or such.  Even in
> the tiny rural corner of Washington State where I'm originally from,
> I've heard parents bragging about their (native English speaking)
> children's ability to speak Spanish, and they seem to recognize that
> earlier is better.  ...

Susan already replied to this. All I would add is a question as to whether
anyone has surveyed such attitudes and levels of understanding and whether
there are demographic patterns. IOW, you and Susan are probably both right, but
in different contexts, and it would be helpful to understand those better.

>                                     ...  I remember
> getting in a debate about this on the Internet a few years back, and one
> person's comment was "I never met an Indian who couldn't speak English."
>  Well, obviously that person hadn't spent much time in the Southwest,
> but what really struck me was how much of a self-fulfilling prophecy his
> attitude amounted to:  if all Native Americans can speak English (in
> itself, a positive enough goal) then there is no need to preserve their
> languages.  One goal justifies the next goal.

Again this echoes of situations in Africa. I have frequently encountered
analagous arguments among foreigners working in African development on the
topic of ICT: Why would you need to have content/software in x language if most
of its speakers who can access computers/internet have some ability in English
or French (or if not can have someone translate verbally for them)? It is
interesting that there are now more OSS and MS softwares being developed for
African languages (most recently a Mozilla browser for Luganda, the press
release/announcement for which made the point that some of us have been talking
about for a while, that it makes access easier and more friendly for a great
many people - in this case in Uganda who are not that comfortable with

In addition to self-fulfilling prophecies, as you put it, there are also vicious
circle arguments. One of my favorite examples is hearing from some colleagues
over a short span of weeks 1) that it didn't make sense to translate & print
something in the two main languages of the country we worked in (Hausa & Zarma)
because "no one can read it" and most people who could read could read French
anyway, and 2) that it didn't make sense to do literacy in either Hausa or
Zarma because there was so little printed in either.* Of course both arguments
have huge holes in them, but the effect of such reasoning and self fulfilling
prophecies is to deaden potential for development, education, cultural
expression, etc. even in languages that are not in immediate danger of
extinction - all the more so for languages that have few speakers.

> ...
> PS:  Don, do feel free to re-post any of my posts anywhere you want.

Thanks. I intended simply to repost your first message to MultiEd-L, but the
thread has covered so much ground that I will also reference the subject and
give a pointer to the ILAT archives.

All the best.

Don Osborn

* Happily I was able to prevail in both cases, in part for having pointed out
the vicious circle.

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