"Knowledge will forever govern ignorance

 and a people who mean to be their own governors

 must arm themselves with the power which knowledge gives."

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Make English the Official Language of the United States

There is an English language requirement to become a naturalized citizen of the United States:

Applicants for naturalization must be able to read, write, speak, and understand words in ordinary usage in the English language.
How does this English language requirement square with this foreign language requirement at polling places?

The Justice Department is sending federal monitors to Bergen and Essex counties in response to complaints that Spanish-language voting information was lacking at some polling places. Monitors will gather information regarding compliance with the Voting Rights Act, particularly the portion addressing foreign language.
English should be the official language of the United States and Congress should enact an unambiguous law ending the country’s slide into a bi- or multi-lingual nation. It’s become obvious why many Democrats oppose a law making English the official language. Charles Krauthammer’s explains why it’s important In Plain English: Let's Make It Official - Having a unifying language is a secret of America's success. Why mess with it?

One of the major reasons for America's great success as the world's first "universal nation," for its astonishing and unmatched capacity for assimilating immigrants, has been that an automatic part of acculturation was the acquisition of English. And yet during the great immigration debate now raging in Congress, the people's representatives cannot make up their minds whether the current dominance of English should be declared a national asset, worthy of enshrinement in law.

America has been accepting foreign-language-speaking immigrants forever--Brooklyn is so polyglot it is a veritable Babel--and yet we've done just fine. What's the great worry about Spanish?

The worry is this. Polyglot is fine. When immigrants, like those in Brooklyn, are members of a myriad of linguistic communities, each tiny and discrete, there is no threat to the common culture. No immigrant presumes to make the demand that the state grant special status to his language. He may speak it in the street and proudly teach it to his children, but he knows that his future and certainly theirs lie inevitably in learning English as the gateway to American life.

But all of that changes when you have an enormous, linguistically monoclonal immigration as we do today from Latin America. Then you get not Brooklyn's successful Babel but Canada's restive Quebec. Monoclonal immigration is new for the U.S., and it changes things radically. If at the turn of the 20th century, Ellis Island had greeted teeming masses speaking not 50 languages but just, say, German, America might not have enjoyed the same success at assimilation and national unity that it has.

Today's monoclonal linguistic culture is far from hypothetical. Growing rapidly through immigration, it creates large communities--in some places already majorities--so overwhelmingly Spanish speaking that, in time, they may quite naturally demand the rights and official recognition for Spanish that French has in French-speaking Quebec.

History has blessed us with all the freedom and advantages of multiculturalism. But it has also blessed us, because of the accident of our origins, with a linguistic unity that brings a critically needed cohesion to a nation as diverse, multiracial and multiethnic as America. Why gratuitously throw away that priceless asset? How mindless to call the desire to retain it "racist."

English is the U.S.'s national and common language. But that may change over time unless we change our assimilation norms. Making English the official language is the first step toward establishing those norms. "Official" means the language of the government and its institutions. "Official" makes clear our expectations of acculturation. "Official" means that every citizen, upon entering America's most sacred political space, the voting booth, should minimally be able to identify the words President and Vice President and county commissioner and judge. The immigrant, of course, has the right to speak whatever he wants. But he must understand that when he comes to the U.S., swears allegiance and accepts its bounty, he undertakes to join its civic culture. In English.



11 Comments:

At 4:50 PM, Blogger PN said...

It's hard to improve on Krauthammer.

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Why Choose English yall aint even thinkin bout the first people here that we MADE speak english those native american's and it's not even like they tryin to make us learn there language they jus tryin ta raise families jus like us so I ain't know why yall trippen on them. Ta me immigrants give us tha chance ta broaden the white american mindset to an actual melting pot.

 
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