Contrary to popular belief, English is not the official language of the U.S. It is the de facto language, meaning that it’s the one typically used. Last year, my state voted overwhelmingly in favor of making English the official state language (almost 90%). With this many people in favor of English as the “official” language, should it be made official nationally?
I say no.
Pawnee, Wampanoag, Cree, Taino... These are just a few of many different tribal languages that existed in the Americas before most European ancestors of modern Americans even knew the continents existed. Just as today’s Melanesia has up to 1,500 languages spoken, the Americas have had a similar diverse, colorful patchwork quilt of language in their history.
English has only been a part of this history for a few hundred years; in fact, the national language at once seemed to have a higher probablitiy of being Spanish than English. So why is it that so many present-day U.S. citizens so disdainfully say, “Speak English or get out of America?”
The issue definitely lies in the prospect of power; but perhaps also a lack of education and an egocentric American view of the world. Not only would establishing English as the official language of America further disempower the many poeples of the country that are not fluent in English or those who would migrate here; it would also encourage the continuing decline of American education and world consciousness.
America is notorious for asserting itself across the globe like a three hundred million-clan spawned from John Wayne and Chuck Norris and making everyone’s business our bussiness for the pursuit of power. A variety of non-English languages would be just as much a threat as, say, an open Mexican border, a higher non-white population in the media and film industries, or adding French cuisine to high school cafeteria menus.
To protect the sacredness of the English language, just as many would want to protect the sacredness of marriage, the flag, and apple pie, many people might go after such legislation as they would with any immigration legislation: with torches and pitchforks.
However, in doing so, they are alienating anyone who does not currently speak English. Over three hundred languages are currently spoken in the United States, including almost 30 million Spanish speakers. There is no national religion (despite what some might say), no national ideology, sexuality, or political affiliation that everyone must subscribe to. Indeed, in all matters of thought, personal opinion, and lifestyle, diversity is the one thing that can be counted on across America, in general.
In a country that so fervently cherishes such freedom, why take away that freedom of language? The answer lies in the same reason why civil liberties were curtailed in the “War on Terror,” why the National Women’s Equality Act failed in its passage, and why there is such controversy with minority rights, affirmative action, school testing, and any other related issue—power.
The most powerful country in the world is such a dangerous entity, especially with its current system of education and lack of knowledge in not only national but global affairs. Remember how poor Miss Teen South Carolina demonstrated just how much residents of the United States need maps—or, at least, the education to use them?
Sure, she was simply one nervious teenager; but it’s no secret that the country’s education system is in dire need of repair. The corrolation between language and failure at school is not alone in its perpetration, nor is it going to be solved with a national language. On the contrary, its solvency is directly linked with changing its cause—the superiority mindset of one group versus others, the deliniation of social supremecies; the issue of power.
Many teachers believe that implementing more languages into the education system is also very beneficial to the student; not only does it extend students’ concepts on langauges and ways to percieve them, but also on global awareness, consciousness, and perhaps even empathy. Also, with such negative connotation given to non-English speakers by people—even teachers—including at least one second language in curriculae could also lead to more tolerance and social understanding, something else desperately needed in not just schools but in communities. Surely these qualities would only make them more successful as individuals, as well as problem solvers and creators of change on the planet?
When I see bumper stickers that declare animosity toward non-English speakers or hear jokes about immigration and lack of understanding due to a language barrier, both anger and shame shroud my heart. While the fact that the ancestors of many of these people didn’t speak English but instead spoke Dutch, Spanish, German, and dozens of other languages—including those native to the Americas—may not bear much in deciding factors of today, it does seem to add insult to injury. And in the arrogance of our assumptions, America—yes, along with other nations—has made many a mistake, resulting in loss of both culture and life. Making such an egregious proclamation as declaring English as the language of the land would certainly add to the list of these errors.
What do you think? Would an official declaration of English as a national language help or harm the country and its people? In your opinion, has it helped or harmed the states that have already passed it?