Toward Language Sanity

By Don Feder
Volume 7, Number 1 (Fall 1996)
Issue theme: "'Anchor babies' - the citizen-child loophole"

Late in July, federal legislation to make Eng-lish our official language was approved by a House committee. A floor vote could come as early as Thursday. [The House voted approval on August 1st.]

While the move is supported by 82 percent of voters, not everyone is delighted. The bill is "built on bias and bigotry," raged Rep. Matthew Martinez, D-Calif.

Really? Is Mexico xenophobic for making Spanish its official language? Or is America to be the only country without national pride, content to see its culture dissolve into nothing-ness?

"What binds us together in this country is our freedoms and ideals," declaimed Rep. Gene Green, D-Texas. "It's more than language that makes us Ameri-cans."

Still, if we can't talk to each other about these fine sentiments, in terms of drawing us together, they count for little. Besides, it's unlikely that an immigrant could share our heritage and values without speaking our language.

Finally, opponents contend that the legislation is un-necessary. Why, 97 percent of our inhabitants already speak English well, they maintain. (The other three percent all operate convenience stores in metropolitan areas.)

This improbable statistic is derived from unverified Census Bureau data. A respondent is asked "Do you speak English well?" "Oh, si!" One more American is counted among the great English ora-tors of all time.

If the over-whelming majority who reside here are so fluent in our native tongue, why are we spending $8 billion annually to provide two million students with bilingual edu-cation?

Why does the federal government require the printing of ballots in everything from Chinese to Tongan in certain election districts?

And why do 40 states give drivers tests in foreign lan-guages? In California, the exam is offered in 33 languages, including Assyrian, Hindi and Serbo-Croatian. Beware balkan-ized drivers!

America is becoming a lunatic asylum of linguistic chaos - which is just fine with a multicultural wrecking crew that despises everything which smacks of European culture, especially English.

Each year, over one million immigrants come here, legally and illegally. We are told that efforts to control our borders are cruel and chauvinistic. Is it, then, too much to ask that immigrants learn to speak our common tongue?

The legislation at issue (the English Language Empower-ment Act) is modest. Its "bias and bigotry" consist exclusively in requiring that government business be conducted in the language of the Constitution and Bill of Rights, the language in which the president takes his oath of office and in which congressional debates are conducted.

If the current situation wasn't bad enough, the future bodes ill.

In 1994, the IRS printed half a million tax forms in Spanish. In 1993, the INS conducted a citizenship ceremony mostly in Spanish.

Between 1990 and 1994, the Government Printing Office produced 265 different foreign-language publications. The U.S. Postal Service has printed over one million brochures to help clerks communicate with customers in nine languages. (That three percent of the population which doesn't' speak English well really gets around.)

From here, there's a logical regression. If it's unfair to ask a new American to cast an English ballot, is it not equally oppressive to allow a monolingual political debate? Perhaps politicians should be required to set forth their agendas in several lan-guages. Then Bill Clinton could lie to us in Laotian and Bob Dole could bore us in Arabic.

Rhode Island and Wash-ington have officially declared themselves "multi-lingual states." Sen. John Breaux and Rep. John Hayes, both Louisiana Democrats, have introduced a constitutional amendment to guarantee "cultural rights" to all Americans. Presumably, these include the right to be coddled in the idiom of the old country.

As Theodore Roosevelt observed in the early years of this century, there can be no assimilation without language uniformity. "We have room for but one language here and that is the English language, for we intend to see that the crucible turns out our people as Americans  and not as dwellers in a polyglot boarding house."

Designating English our official language is a baby step away from Babel. It's a move toward unity, or at least a nation in which we can discuss our differences instead of scowling at each other behind language barriers that could easily become roadblocks and checkpoints. 