Urban Legend "if it's good enough for Jesus"

Don Osborn dzo at bisharat.net
Tue Mar 4 06:19:24 UTC 2008

A documented exchange during a demonstration in Denver re whether public
libraries should have books in Spanish gives a rawer and perhaps more
revealing insight into attitudes behind English-only:

"You need to speak English," Weatherford told Casillas.

"I am speaking English, but I can speak Spanish too," Casillas replied.

"You need to speak (English) all the time," Weatherford said.

(from the Denver Post, "Library protest becomes rift over immigration" Aug.
9, 2005; article no longer free - see search at http://tinyurl.com/ytqvmq )

I quote this not to inspire a round of righteous indignation but because it
seems to me to encapsulate several aspects of the English-only drive. The
"received wisdom" of immigrants necessarily abandoning their home language.
Perhaps the discomfort English monolinguals have felt in the company of
people who switch into other languages. Perhaps the exhasperation of
immigrant bilinguals at having their efforts to learn English be discounted
because they are bilingual.

I don't mean to excuse the attitude expressed by someone telling a person
from another linguistic background that she "needs to speak English all the
time," but am trying to understand what goes behind that thinking. Having
lived overseas in various kinds of sociolinguistic settings, the notion
seems patently ridiculous, but it is apparently widely held in the US.

Popular attitudes about language do affect policy, and education for change
has to begin from understanding what the attitudes are. Obviously there is a
lot more involved, but what might be possible if the English-only's and the
bilingual immigrants (and former expatriates too, why not?) could talk
openly about their experiences, hopes, fears, etc. with regard to language
in an unthreatening setting? (unlike where the recorded exchange took place)

Don Osborn

> -----Original Message-----
> From: owner-lgpolicy-list at ccat.sas.upenn.edu [mailto:owner-lgpolicy-
> list at ccat.sas.upenn.edu] On Behalf Of Carl Grove
> Sent: Monday, March 03, 2008 10:15 PM
> To: lgpolicy-list at ccat.sas.upenn.edu
> Subject: RE: Urban Legend "if it's good enough for Jesus"
> The quote below may be urban legend, but the idea behind it is not.
> Having
> grown up in a very conservative church in a rural area it was not
> uncommon
> to hear this sentiment articulated with regard to the King James
> Version of
> the Bible - if it was good enough for the Apostle Paul it's good enough
> for
> us. That was the main argument against using newer translations that
> started
> showing up in the 1970s.
> Having said that, for my dissertation I did a critical analysis of 15
> years
> worth of speeches made to support the "official English movement" in
> Congress. I never saw this particular quote in any of those speeches.
> Lots
> of other ridiculous claims, but not that one.
> Carl
> -----Original Message-----
> From: owner-lgpolicy-list at ccat.sas.upenn.edu
> [mailto:owner-lgpolicy-list at ccat.sas.upenn.edu] On Behalf Of L Pierce
> Sent: Tuesday, March 04, 2008 8:22 AM
> To: lgpolicy-list at ccat.sas.upenn.edu
> Subject: Urban Legend "if it's good enough for Jesus"
> I don't know with certainty that this is an Urban
> legend, but I suspect it is.  I searched for it after
> receiving your email and could only find things that
> lead me to think it is an urban legend. Below are two
> sources along with some good advice when considering
> quotes.  However, if any of those who mentioned the
> quote and/or ascribed it to a person have a reliable
> source that might rebut the urban legend idea.

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