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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    Keep English unofficial

    It may surprise you to learn that the United States has no “”official language”” – a fact which means that offering services, like education, in languages other than English is a possibility for public institutions like the UA.

    Every few years, propositions that English should be the official language of the United States re-enter the public sphere of discussion. Such proposals run the gamut from unenforced declarations to bans on all attempts to offer government services in any language other than English. On last year’s ballot, this idea manifested itself as Proposition 103, whose aim was to declare English the official language of Arizona and cut funding for dual-language materials and services.

    You can accept one of two explanations for this phenomenon. The first is that the English-only movement is based on an egalitarian desire for minorities to have equal footing with everyone else. The second is that the movement is founded on a form of racism, a paradoxical and arbitrary standard for cultural assimilation which states that we, as Americans, should accept people of all backgrounds – as long as they don’t do anything to remind us white folk that they’re different!

    To be fair, some supporters of English as an official language really do fall under the first hypothesis. A few are recent immigrants themselves. They present arguments which suggest that total English immersion, to the exclusion of all other languages, does benefit people in the long run more than other options.

    That’s fine; it’s possible for them to engage in an intelligent dialogue with the rest of us, and if they can produce evidence that an official-English policy is the best policy for everyone, then such a policy should be enacted.

    But the behavior and rhetoric of other people in the movement is best explained by the latter hypothesis.

    For many, the push for English stems from a desire to marginalize minorities – Newt Gingrich admitted as much when he declared that Spanish is “”the language of living in a ghetto.”” Similar vitriol is also directed against people who speak “”ebonics”” and those who speak English with thick accents.

    The justification layered on top of this comes in the form of an assertion that people have some kind of moral obligation to learn the language of the country they live in. But where does this moral obligation come from? “”Well, they just should”” – which is basically what President Bush, Lou Dobbs and other English-only miscreants have stated. Of course, you’ll never hear people complaining that the first English immigrants to the United States should have learned any American Indian languages, except insofar as it benefited them to be able to communicate with others.

    But this is nothing more than an admission that the debate over English as an official language should focus on pragmatic concerns. Arguments from moral obligations to learn English are nothing but transparent covers for equally transparent racist ideas.

    If you don’t believe me, check out some of the arguments these people make. A good starting point is to search “”press 1 for English”” on Google. Believe it or not, a number of people apparently believe you should simply refuse to press anything as an impotent act of individual protest against the evil capitalist system which dares to accommodate Spanish speakers. They believe we should seal the border or pass laws until “”para Español, marque dos”” is no longer an option – in fact, this is almost exactly what Rep. Tom Tancredo, R-Colo., suggested during his pitiful presidential campaign. The fervor attached to this idea is almost religious in nature.

    Adherents of this doctrine believe that non-English speakers are somehow attacking “”American culture.”” But American culture is no culture at all. It is a mix of the strangest elements of different cultures garnished with bald eagles, apple pies, sports utility vehicles, cheap rock music and American flags. Lest anyone doubt my patriotism, that’s exactly the way it should be. Losing too much sleep over the language of our country merely slows the Americanization process. For example, English-only advocates have railed against “”Nuestro Himno,”” the Spanish-language version of our national anthem, en masse, revealing their twisted sense of priority which places linguistics over patriotism.

    The United States is unique among nations precisely because it is founded not on a common ethnic, cultural or linguistic heritage, but on a commitment to a set of core ideals on which everyone can agree. There’s good reason to think this is precisely why the Founding Fathers didn’t declare English as the official language of this country – as smart men, they probably accepted that the culture of our country, and even the language, might change with time.

    Apparently, a large number of people think that American ideals somehow lose their meaning if they’re expressed in any language other than English. But the rest of us know better.

    Taylor Kessinger is a junior majoring in math, philosophy and physics. He can be reached at letters@wildcat.arizona.edu.

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