Official English

Harold F. Schiffman haroldfs at
Wed Mar 21 12:47:33 UTC 2007

Official English

By Mark Falcoff Posted: Saturday, January 1, 2000

Dallas Morning News Publication Date: August 19, 1996

The United States, the most successful country in history, manages to be
kept awake at night by imaginary perils. The latest threat to our
well-being seems to be the prospect of losing our national language.
Apparently, you and I won't be speaking English much longer if something
isn't done to prevent it. But not to fear! Congress is riding to the
rescue, with English-only legislation that would forbid the use of foreign
languages on ballots and other federal documents.

The House has passed a bill that would make English the official language,
and Bob Dole favors the idea. The object, we are told, is to accelerate
the adoption of English by immigrants and discourage the persistence of
linguistic ghettos. Though 150 or so languages are spoken in this country,
the supporters of the bill aren't worried about Urdu or Mandarin. They are
concerned about the 14 million people whose native language is Spanish.
The United States is one of the world's major Spanish-speaking countries.
It produces some of the most important Spanish-language TV and radio
programs. It has a vigorous Spanish-language press, and even mainstream
publishers are beginning to print Spanish-language novels, essays and
other nonfiction.

Should that worry us? House Speaker Newt Gingrich thinks so. And as an
example of the perils of linguistic pluralism, he cites the movement in
French-speaking Quebec to secede from English-speaking Canada. Outside of
Washington, particularly in the West and Southwest, the response to the
Spanish peril" has bordered on the hysterical, fed by small groups of
populist xenophobes. They often are driven to that position by the
incendiary rhetoric of Hispanic activists who threaten to take back" the
West. Let's look at the facts, not emotions. Most Spanish-speaking
immigrants come to the United States seeking a better life, not to widen
the territorial arc of their language. Most regard learning English as
fundamental to economic and social advancement.

The persistence of Spanish reflects not so much resistance to linguistic
integration as it does the uninterrupted flow of newcomers. If there were
no new immigrants from Spanish-speaking countries for 20 years, the
percentage of Spanish speakers would diminish. If that is what most
Americans want, let us revise the immigration laws. Those who think
English requires special protective legislation should look at what is
going on in our society and elsewhere. English is the international
language of finance, commerce, diplomacy, science and education.

As the lingua franca of popular culture, it is spreading across the globe,
particularly among young people, who consider English the key to all
things modern, prosperous and hip. Why should teenagers of Latin origin be
any different? The United States isn't vulnerable to the traps of
linguistic separatism exemplified by countries with more evolved bilingual
cultures. Unlike Canada, Belgium or Switzerland, America has no literary
intellectual class dedicated to maintaining a consistent level of quality
in a second language. Indeed, the quality of spoken Spanish in the United
States often is poor. As Hispanics integrate economically and culturally
into our society, they are likely to lose their linguistic

Though the presence of a large Spanish-speaking population is a reality,
we never will become a linguistically bifurcated country. There are many
divisive forces in American society, but language isn't one of them. The
United States isn't a Balkan principality. There is no point in acting as
if it were.

Mark Falcoff is a resident scholar at AEI.,filter.all/pub_detail.asp


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