What the heck is an "official" language?

Siegel, Jason F. siegeljf at indiana.edu
Tue Jun 26 02:18:46 UTC 2007

  One of the reasons to be afraid of language legislation in the U.S.
is, I believe, precisely that lack of specification in the law. When
the law is unclear, who is to say what is permissible and what is
not? These issues may in fact be left to the courts, which over the
last few years have been loaded with conservative judges (i.e. those
more likely to enforce a policy more exclusive of other languages),
to the dismay of liberals. I think it is perfectly reasonable to be
in a tizzy over a vague law that many people support without knowing
exactly what the implications will and will not be.

  Personally, if the law is to ensure that all government business is
conducted in English, I think it's a useless law as all government
business /is/ conducted in English, and that my government's
priorities ought to lie elsewhere, especially if translation and
interpretation services will still be available for voting,
courtrooms, etc. If it ain't broke, don't fix it.Jason F. Siegel
Department of French & Italian
Ballantine Hall 642
1020 East Kirkwood Avenue
Indiana University
Bloomington, IN 47405-7103
siegeljf at indiana.edu

Quoting Harold Schiffman <haroldfs at gmail.com>:

> One of the reasons I sent out the original message about "official"
> is that there is no clear definition anywhere that defines what
> language means, or implies. Some countries have "national"
languages that
> are perhaps more symbolic, but my whole approach to language policy
is that
> officialization often doesn't matter, i.e. language policy usually
> of "official/written/overt
> /de jure/top-down/explicit" policy as well as
> covert/de facto/grass-roots/implicit" aspects.  As Dennis Baron
notes, we
> seem to have achieved dominance in English without ever
officializing it.
> I used to try to make an example of how implicit expectations about
the use
> of English in the U.S., especially in education, were almost never
> out, by walking into a classroom and holding forth in French for a
> until someone objected.  Then I'd ask what the official language of
> university was, to which they had no answer, except that the
> *expectation*was that lectures would be in English.
> So I'm really not afraid about officialization of English, because
if I know
> our American legislators, they'll pass legislation that has
absolutely no
> provisions for implementation, funding, enforcement, evaluation, or
> other necessary factors to make it actually *work*. Officializaton
> English in the US would be largely *symbolic*; in fact, interest in
> officialization is found mostly in small rural towns where
everybody already
> speaks English.  Calls for officialization are symbolic ways to
express ones
> patriotism, ones value system, and perhaps also subtly express
racism, i;e.
> it's a *proxy *for xenophobia.  And it's cheap, too--doesn't cost
much for a
> small town to officialization English, and it may get somebody some
votes in
> the next election.
> Hal Schiffman
> On 6/25/07, rbhatt at uiuc.edu <rbhatt at uiuc.edu> wrote:
>> There is a nice piece on this matter, on Official English for the
>> written by my colleague, Dennis Baron, that should be of interest
to this
>> list.  The URL is:
>> Or you can access it from:
>> http://webtools.uiuc.edu/blog/view?blogId=25
>> All best,
>> Rakesh
>> ---- Original message ----
>> >Date: Mon, 25 Jun 2007 06:49:56 +0100
>> >From: "Anthea Fraser Gupta" <a.F.Gupta at leeds.ac.uk>
>> >Subject: RE : What the heck is an "official" language?
>> >To: <lgpolicy-list at ccat.sas.upenn.edu>,
<lgpolicy-list at ccat.sas.upenn.edu
>> >
>> >
>> >Absolutely. We had  some discussion about this a couple of months
ago. In
>> actuality, the US, like the UK already has an official language.
But even if
>> English were to be made de jure the official language, I fail to
>> why this designation would entail the proscription of other
languages or a
>> ban on any funding of other languages.
>> >
>> >Anthea
>> >
>> >*     *     *     *     *
>> >Anthea Fraser Gupta (Dr)
>> >School of English, University of Leeds, LS2 9JT <
>> www.leeds.ac.uk/english/staff/afg>
>> >NB: Reply to a.f.gupta at leeds.ac.uk
>> >*     *     *     *     *
>> >
>> >________________________________
>> >
>> **********************************************
>> Associate Professor, Linguistics and SLATE
>> Department of Linguistics
>> University of Illinois
>> 4088 FLB, 707 S. Mathews
>> Urbana, IL 61801
>> Email: rbhatt at uiuc.edu
>> Ph: 217-265-6308
>>     217-333-3563 (leave message)
>> Fax: 217-244-8430
> --
> =+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=
> Harold F. Schiffman
> Professor Emeritus of
> Dravidian Linguistics and Culture
> Dept. of South Asia Studies
> University of Pennsylvania
> Philadelphia, PA 19104-6305
> Phone:  (215) 898-7475
> Fax:  (215) 573-2138
> Email:  haroldfs at gmail.com
>                         http://ccat.sas.upenn.edu/~haroldfs/
> -------------------------------------------------

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