If Jesus Spoke It, It's Good Enough for the USA

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Whew, America dodged a bullet: English is finally going to become the national language.

Backers of the Senate Republican proposal, approved Thursday by 63-34, said that it was equivalent to establishing an official national anthem or motto and that it would simply affirm the pre- eminence of English without overturning laws or rules on bilingualism.

"We're free to say what we want, speak what we want, but it is our national language," said Senator Lamar Alexander, a Tennessee Republican.

Democrats led by Ken Salazar (D-CO, one of three Hispanic senators) might have poisoned the bill by adding an amendment proclaiming English the "common and unifying" language of the US. That sounds good to the layman, but official-English hawks consider it a watering-down of the bill.

This is easy to laugh at, but it could easily turn into a boondoggle. States and municipalities have quietly been adding bilingual ballots, signs, and official forms to their portfolios for decades. Would an English-only law scupper these forms? Would it make it illegal for, say, clinics in east Los Angeles to issue health information in Spanish? I'd be amazed if the Lamar Alexanders of the world have even thought on this.

Nick Gillespie's anti-English-Only column—the one that launched a thousand crazy emails—is here.

NEXT: Warp Factor Fabulous

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  1. I will continue to recite the pledge of alligence in Esperanto and Klingon until they come and rip my tongue out.

  2. Being from So Cal it surprised me to visit Miami and see what a truly bi-lingual city was like. I actually thought we were progressive that way.

    I don’t see a boondoggle coming myself and if the clinics are government owned and the feds dictate that all info be in English, well that says something else entirely. A private provider would remain free………………

    And thirdly, I’m not sure how I feel about things like the Ca DMV providing all info in about 8 different languages.

  3. And, of course, the bill is a ‘fuck you’ statement to the thousands of Inuit, Navajo, Hopi and others who were born and raised of parents who were born and raised in the US whose parents were born and raised….

    There is, additionally, no evidence whatsoever that immigrants don’t learn English, either this generation or any generation in the past. But there’s no reason to confuse our Congresscritters with the facts when demagogery is so much more fun and lucrative.

    Geoff

  4. Oh yeah, and Sen Hayakawa is smiling from his crypt. I’d post a link but the server will smite me for two in one post.

    Interesting take on English Only from Hispanic Business magazine here

  5. I don’t understand objections to any laws that mandate that all goverment public communications are to be conducted in English. I believe in fully open borders and I also believe I shouldn’t have to pay a nickel to make government services more “culturally sensitive” to immigrants. If you immigrate here and you don’t speak English, well tough titty.

  6. From a practical standpoint, I think government actually should be forced to print all publications in a common language. I have no problem with printing information about a public hearing, for example, in Spanish too if the make up of the community dictates it, but you should have one universal goverment language so we all can tabs on what the bastards are doing.

  7. But have they specified which sort of English? Must it be American English or is one still free to use words such as “gobsmacked”, “wanker” and “telly”? What about Jamaican Patois, “Ebonics” or Indian (sub-continent) English? Since languages constantly change, won’t we need a new government body to ensure that everyone continues to speak early 21st century English? God forbid, too many Spanish or Chinese loan words start corrupting our “official language.” Anyway it is good to see a threatened language like English will finally be afforded the same protections as other similarly endangered toungues like Welsh, Lakota, and Ainu.

  8. We better get out of here, vanya 6724 is way too smart for us.

  9. So long as the law doesn’t go to the extent that Canada’s language laws do, where they specify what languages must be used in private matters, I don’t have that much of a problem with it, either.

  10. It is a perfectly legitimate policy decision to say that to encourage assimilation and a common language the government will only conduct affairs in one language. As long as private citizens are free to conduct their business how they like, I don’t see how any of this affects anyone’s freedom. That people who claim to be libertarian would object to this shows how deeply feel good nanny stateism has seeped into society.

  11. It is a perfectly legitimate policy decision to say that to encourage assimilation and a common language the government will only conduct affairs in one language. As long as private citizens are free to conduct their business how they like, I don’t see how any of this effects anyone’s freedom. That people who claim to be libertarian would object to this shows how deeply feel good nanny stateism has seeped into society.

  12. My guess is that this will get to the Supreme Court pretty quickly when some election board decides that they don’t have to provide ballots or interpreters at the polling station.

    It will be hard to see how it could survive court review unless that election board has gotten rid of readers or brail ballots for the blind, etc.

    Of course that would only kill that one part of the bill. And it depends on how the Roberts’ Court might act.

  13. Ooh, ooh, I want to be on the English Purity Commission!! Let me go to France to see how it’s done. Then I’ll come back and excise all of the intruding alien words.

  14. Ooh, ooh, I want to be on the English Purity Commission!! Let me go to France to see how it’s done. Then I’ll come back and excise all of the intruding alien words.

  15. Ooh, ooh, I want to be on the English Purity Commission!! Let me go to France to see how it’s done. Then I’ll come back and excise all of the intruding alien words.

  16. I always thought one of the special things about this country was that we didn’t have a national language. It seems way more welcoming and inviting to immigrants to just leave it wide open. National language = nationalism, and everyone knows where nationalism leads us. *shudder*

  17. Ooh, ooh, I want to be on the English Purity Commission!! Let me go to France to see how it’s done. Then I’ll come back and excise all of the intruding alien words.

  18. So are we allowed to use words derived from other languages? Like rocket (french) and bomb (latin bombus, greek bombos), you know the ones with the red glare (middle low german) and bursting (dutch) in air.

    It’s like franglais all over again. Perhaps we can call the bill “Tongue Tied.”

    I’d like to add that Nick should go on Oh’Really more often. The emails are great and could be a Friday fun link.

  19. Ooh, ooh, I want to be on the English Purity Commission!! Let me go to France to see how it’s done. Then I’ll come back and excise all of the intruding alien words.

  20. Will the signs on the walls of Fortress America–the ones explaining that fence jumpers will be shot on sight–will they be written in English or Spanish?

  21. We hates Server! We hates it forever!

  22. I say it’s time to serve the server squirrels. Perhaps in a nice b?arnaise sauce… uh, hollandai… no wait, I meant worchestershire… Yeah that’s it! Worchestershire sauce.

    Damn… haggis again!

  23. PL really, really wants to get onto that committee.

  24. Vote Yes on an official state language.

    because it worked so well in Quebec.

  25. Are they really going to start regulating what is and is not English? After all, you can’t prove that a form is or is not English unless you have some regulatory body determing what, exactly, is and is not English, right?

  26. Hw?t! We Gardena in geardagum,
    ?eodcyninga, ?rym gefrunon,
    hu ?a ??elingas ellen fremedon.
    Oft Scyld Scefing scea?ena ?reatum,
    ===================================================
    Is that “English” enough for these jackasses?

  27. Did I just violate the proposed law by misspelling “determining?”

  28. Was there any mention of an official accent or dialect? Some of the regional dialects of the US may as well be a foreign language and the security of our country demands that Bostonians and Southerners confirm to good old American English as it exists in the heartland.

  29. Why postpone the inevitable? Let’s just make Hindi and Mandarin our official languages.

  30. Sorry, Scott, we were here before you were. Y’all will find maps to the re-education centers in your orientation package.

    I’m predicting another civil war over this.

  31. Hmmph, technology. Can’t even handle a damned dipthong.

  32. You are all (except for John) missing the point. The intent is to regulate governmental communications such that they are supplied in a single common tongue. I’m not a fan of the method (a vague Constitutional amendment) but I have no problem with the intent and have yet to hear a reasonable argument why I should.

  33. I have no problem with the intent and have yet to hear a reasonable argument why I should.

    How about that government communication, like all communication, is meant to communicate, and it can’t very well do that unless the recipient of the communication understands it?

    (trying very hard not to call the previous commenter a moron)

  34. This thread reminded me of my old friend El Jeronimo de Crow. He and his grandmother used to sit on the front porch and talk to each other frequently. He would speak to her in English and she would answer in Spanish. He claimed he couldn’t speak Spanish and she claimed she couldn’t speak English.

  35. Several people have supported the idea that all government documents should be in English. I have some experience that might be relevant. Back before the glaciers receded, I worked as a hearing officer for the Texas Employment Commission. (Whatever anyone thinks of unemployment benefits, I have to say that no job has ever given me so many funny stories as listening all day to why people got fired.) One of my coworkers had a case in which the claimant was a member of the Kickapoo tribe, which resides right on the border in Laredo. He spoke nothing but Kickapoo, not one word of English or Spanish. His family had lived in that precise spot for who knows how many thousands of years. In order to do her job, however, my friend had to order an interpreter for him. This happened a lot. We provided information or interpreter services so that we could have some idea what the participants were saying far more than as some odd tribute to multiculturalism. I’ve heard similar stories from friends who work for the DA or police or courts. While I can’t speak for everyone in that position, I didn’t want to waste my time flailing away with a witness or party who had something important to contribute but didn’t speak English well enough to formulate the idea. Find someone who can help.(FWIW, we had as many employers who needed interpreters as claimants. I had no idea just how internation Houston was until I had that job.) It has always been my conviction that we owed it to those people to make the process as easy as possible for them, and if interpreters helped me understand, then get the interpreter and provide a translation of the decision in their language.

  36. How about that government communication, like all communication, is meant to communicate, and it can’t very well do that unless the recipient of the communication understands it?

    So the government should tailor all communications to the receipients preferred method? Gee, how thoughtful of us. To bad doing this isn’t free.

  37. Are they really going to start regulating what is and is not English? After all, you can’t prove that a form is or is not English unless you have some regulatory body determing what, exactly, is and is not English, right?

    ANd as we know from yesterday’s thread, choosing a standard form of English is cultural racism.

  38. So the government should tailor all communications to the receipients preferred method? Gee, how thoughtful of us. To bad doing this isn’t free.

    If you’re going to the trouble of paying for a communication to be made, already, don’t you want it to be understood?

    Oh, I get it. You don’t want it to be understood. How stupid of me. I assumed you wanted people to understand the government communications that taxpayers paid for! But it turns out you only want English speakers to understand things like tax forms, laws, traffic signs….

  39. Vanya’s right. We need to mandate not English, but ‘Merican. Those silly poofters may have originated our tongue, but we don’t speak English anymore. We have manifestly self-destined out language and made it our own.

    Talk ‘Merican or die!

  40. But it turns out you only want English speakers to understand things like tax forms, laws, traffic signs.

    That’s absolutely correct. I don’t want to shoulder the expense of printing everything in 400 different languages and having every office have interpreters for all possible languages. And I see no reason why I should.

    One common language for government communications is economically efficient. I don’t care if it is Swahili, although English does seem to be the obvious choice.

  41. I don’t see a problem with saying “English is our official language” as long as that doesn’t mean “exclusive language.” But I just don’t understand the problem people have with providing alternative language options. This is just a lazy man’s technique of trying to discourage immigration: “oh, you can come to our country if you can jump through all the little hoops, and now here’s another one — don’t use none of your native moon-talk around us, ’cause we don’t want to hear it.

    On a side note, I wonder if they make exceptions for American Sign Language and Braile, or if those effin’ cripples will just have to suck it up.

  42. That’s absolutely correct.

    Then I don’t want to hear you whine that your terrific cost-efficient forms aren’t understood by the people you intended to read them.

    I didn’t want to come right out and say this, but you obviously want to make life as hard as possible for people with an insufficient grasp of English, and you want to see them suffer and fail. You want to establish a barrier betwen them and your oh-so-important government regulations so they can’t understand them, and then you want to hold them responsible for understanding and obeying the law. Are you nuts?

  43. And the monetary expenses of printing alternative materials like tax forms and keep out signs on the Great Wall of Texas are a pittance compared to the amount of cash the government blows on all kind of various projects. For example, let’s cut a few million from that gottverdammt bridge to nowhere in Alaska to cover it.

  44. The truly bizarre thing about the immigration debate is the focus on the legality of the immigration. Somehow because the immigrants enter ILLEGALLY!!!! they lose all claim on sympathy.

    Let us consider a crude back-of-the-envelope calculation of the fraction of US citizens who break the law – that is, who carry out their affairs to some degree ILLEGALLY!!!!

    1. Everyone who has ever smoked pot or used another illegal drug. Pot alone nets a big chunk of the population if we consider “ever smoked”. Even regular smokers are, what, 15 percent?

    2. Everyone who has ever knowingly cheated on their taxes or on taxes related to employees. This includes anyone who evers pays cash their nanny, babysitter, gardener, plumber, etc. This must be at least 30 percent, maybe 50?

    3. Everyone who drives with a blood alcohol level exceeding their state maximum. This has to be, well, basically everyone who drinks in a non-trivial way. So lets say 25 percent.

    Now, these groups surely overlap, but I suspect that if one kept at this (and bothered, which I have not, to look the numbers up carefully rather than just recollecting them) one could easily find that 80 percent or more of US citizens are guilty of some ILLEGAL!!!!! action. Indeed, a careful piece along these lines would make a nice article in the magazine and/or on the web page.

    Seems to me that anyone who thinks that all illegal immigrants should be deported/shot/forced to watch Al Gore’s new movie should also think that all of these folks should be subject to the same punishment.

    At the least, such people should chill out a bit and stop acting like more than a tiny fraction of the locals are not lawbreakers as well – the majority of them probably regularly and with full knowledge of doing so. How could it be otherwise in a society in which many laws are passed simply for show and in which the legal code is so vast and complex as to be beyond mere human understanding?

    Jeff

  45. The problem is that not every immigrant is from Latin America. There are lots of immigrants from places like Eretria, Somalia and China who speak pretty obscure and difficult languages. It goes back to the same question I have in every one of these immigration debates and that is what the hell is so special about Mexicans?

    Do the people here arguing against this actually expect the U.S. government to function in everyone of the 100s of languages spoken in this country or are you thinking that the government should only function in English and Spanish? If you are going to do it for Mexicans how can you not do it for Eretrians and Somalis?

    There seems to be three options here. First, declare that every person in the country has the right to conduct business with the government in any language they choose in the government must accommodate them. Second, you can say that all immigrants are not created equal and that only Spanish and English speakers are allowed to conduct business with the government in their native language and the rest of the immigrants can go fuck themselves because immigration means all Mexicans all the time or it means nothing. Third, you can just say that anyone who moves here and wants to conduct business with the government needs to do so in English.

    The third option seems a lot more fair and reasonable than the other two.

  46. I didn’t want to come right out and say this, but you obviously want to make life as hard as possible for people with an insufficient grasp of English, and you want to see them suffer and fail.

    I have no interest in making living in America hard for anybody. I have no interest in making living in America easy for anybody. My only interest is in managing limited government resources as efficiently as possible. Multi-lingual support is too expensive for my taste. As John laid out, I could be persuaded to pay for the “second option” but “third option seems a lot more fair and reasonable than the other two”.

  47. MP,

    The reason against adopting a common language in 2006 is exactly the same as it was in 1779: this is a multicultural country in which there are numerous communities of non-English speakers. Whether we’re talking about German Americans in Pennsylvania in 1780 or Mexican Americans in California in 2000, they’re here, and they primarily speak other languages.

    I’ve always thought the government should have to adapt to the preferences and ways of life of its citizens. I don’t think citizens should have to adapt their activities to please the govenrment. We are free people, we will talk any damn way we like, and it’s the government’s job to keep up.

  48. The government should function in any language in which it wants to be understood. If it does not care for making itself understood, then it has no right to hold people responsible for understanding.

    You’d think people wanted non-English speakers to run amok, without any understanding of what’s expected of them.

    Even the Catholic Church gave up mandating that Bibles and worship services be printed and held in Latin. Ever wonder why?

    This whole stupid argument is so anti-libertarian. In a free market anarchy, if someone wants to contract freely with another person, both people are likely to want to make damn sure they both understand the contract.

  49. I am not sure what is unfair about providing government forms in non-English languages used by many people and not providing them in languages used by few people. In fact, this done routinely in other contexts – think about foreign language signs at airports both here and abroad. In Schipol Airport in Amsterdam, signs are in Dutch and English because most (though not all) of the people in the airport who do not know Dutch do know at least some English. Surely this dominates on utilitarian grounds (or cost-benefit grounds if you prefer) having signs either only in Dutch or having many fewer signs but in more languages.

    Jeff

  50. “So the government should tailor all communications to the receipients preferred method? Gee, how thoughtful of us. To bad doing this isn’t free.”

    Damn straight, MP. Actually mailing out all those public hearing notices is expensive, and a pain in the ass for us bureaucrats. I know that homeowners would prefer to have us use that form of communication known as “the US Postal Service,” but just taping a single copy up on the City Hall bulletin board is so much cheaper and easier. And that’s what’s really important.

  51. So Joe,

    It is your position that if an immigrant moves to small town X and the only language that person speaks is some obscure dialect of rural Cantonese, that immigrant has a right to demand that that local government find some way to conduct its business with in in said Catonese dialect? If not, why not? If so, does the immigrant bear any responsibility to learn English and save the local government and his fellow taxpayers the expense of hiring doing business in Cantonese?

  52. BTW, this bill contains an out clause. The law is, the government has to conduct official business in English unless it has a good reason to conduct it in another language. And there doesn’t appear to be any enforcement provision for determining what a good reason is. Which is pretty much all they can do, under the Equal Protection clause.

    So the “backers of the Senate Republican proposal” are right – this makes English the Official Language in roughly the same way that Frozen Lemonade is the Official Summertime Drink of the State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations. Whoop-dee-doo.

    It’s pretty disgusting that the Republicans feel to need to take symbolic steps to endorse cultural conformism because of their hositility toward furrners, but let’s not dignify this cheap stunt by pretending it means anything.

    Sorry, MP and John. People who don’t read English are going to continue to be able to read their ballots, whether you like it or not.

  53. John, I am not the sort of person who likes to think of the government as if it was a person, but imagine this sort of analogy.

    Say you were the owner of a general store in small town X. If the Cantonese gentleman moves into town, you have a choice. If you want him very much for a customer, you will try to make it as easy as possible for him to buy from you. If you do not care if he buys from you, you will not be motivated to make an effort. If he comes in only rarely, you may work out some sort of sign or picture language for the purpose.

    The governemnt should decide to do what fits the best interest of the people generally. If that means that it has to stoop to making sure a given individual or group can understand it, then that is what it has to do.

    Last I checked, we weren’t in favor of forcing all our foreign diplomats to speak nothing but English. Why might that be?

  54. John,

    I don’t think the town should have to fund translation and printing services for one person. I do think the town should have to fund those services if 20% of its residents speak that language. Somewhere in between there is a cutoff point, and it’s going to have to be found on a case-by-case basis using that all-too-rare tool known as “common sense.”

  55. I could have sworn English had been declared the official language of the US government back in the ’90s, but no, it turns out two bills mandating that both died in committee.

    I believe we are still the only country in the world that does not have an official language. You’d think the English First crowd could rally around our uniqueness with a hearty “America! Fuck Yeah!”

  56. Joe, it doesn’t matter what percentage there is if the town council is hell-bent on getting the untouchables out of town. Any garbage argument, any lousy tactic, and nitpicky difficulty, is good enough if it makes the place too hot for the… oops, I almost said the N word.

  57. This whole stupid argument is so anti-libertarian.

    Feel free to elaborate on this one.

    And BTW, based on this “government must adapt” logic, shouldn’t the government publish all dates in both the Roman and Chinese calendars? Why stop at being multi-lingual?

    Sorry, MP and John. People who don’t read English are going to continue to be able to read their ballots, whether you like it or not.

    There’s no need to slander either of us as anti-immigrant. We are not discussing the merits of this particular proposal or the dubiousness of the timing. We are discussing the concept of a common language.

    I truly do expect better of you joe than to stoop to this type of personal attack.

    (goddamn squirrels)

  58. MP, do you have any idea how much multilingual support actually costs, or are you just assuming that any amount is too much for your tastes?

  59. I’ll put it as plainly as I know how.

    If you want to communicate a message, you make an effort to make sure your communication is understood by the people with which you want to communicate.

    If you are against making such an effort, then there is some reason why you wish to not be understood.

  60. MP,

    “And BTW, based on this “government must adapt” logic, shouldn’t the government publish all dates in both the Roman and Chinese calendars?”

    If there is a public event scheduled for a certain date, and the government is informing the residents of a Chinese neighborhood in which there are a lot of people who use the Chinese calender, then they should print the fliers with both versions of the date. What’s the problem here?

  61. Say you were the owner of a general store in small town X.

    The problem with that bizarre analogy is that the store owner runs a private business. The market will determine if that is a reasonable expense to be passed on. The government is a monopoly, with guns to back up its choices.

    Come back with something a little better.

  62. MP, do you have any idea how much multilingual support actually costs, or are you just assuming that any amount is too much for your tastes?

    I’m willing to compromise and provide limited funding under limited circumstances where “common sense” is appropriate (although 20% is far too low a cut-off for my tastes). But my preference is zero, as any amount is too much for my tastes.

    If you want to communicate a message, you make an effort to make sure your communication is understood by the people with which you want to communicate.

    We’re not talking about public service annoucements or evacuation notices. We’re talking about government documents.

  63. Hmmph, technology. Can’t even handle a damned dipthong.
    It’s the server, it isn’t as young as it once was so now anything related to a thong gives it palpitations and it doesn’t matter what the thong is dipped into.

  64. oops, I almost said the N word.

    Get a grip.

    there is some reason why you wish to not be understood.

    As someone who supports amnesty, thinks immigrants are great for America, and has in fact dated one recently, I find these cryptic accusations to be beneath contempt. One could easily support this measure without subscribing to the sinister motivations you’re seeing everywhere. And by the way, I have never met an immigrant who didn’t either already speak English, or was very close to someone who did. Therefore, spending tax dollars on multilingual signs and translators seems like a waste to me. There are numerous private agencies to support new immigrants – I see no reason to depend on the government for such services.

  65. This is the legaslative equivalent of cat herding.

  66. I’ll bet anything that most proponents of an English-only law have flunked a foreign language course in school.

  67. Rhywyn,

    You are absolutely right. Most immigrants do speak English or learn to do so shortly after entering the country because to not do so condemns them to the margins. Yeah, you can get buy just speaking Spanish, if you want to clean hotels for your whole life. People like Joe do not do immigrants any favors by encouraging them to live in sheltered linguistic enclaves and not learn English. If 20% of the town doesn’t speak English, then 20% of the town has a very limited future. Rather than cater to this disadvantage, the government should be discouraging it. Making everything bilingual doesn’t accomplish anything except make liberals like Joe feel good about themselves.

  68. Last I checked, we weren’t in favor of forcing all our foreign diplomats to speak nothing but English. Why might that be?

    By your logic, government representatives in other countries who interact with American diplomats should speak to them in English, since as functionaries of a goverment seeking to communicate, they need to adapt to the language of the person they are interacting with.

    Or does your multi-cultural ruleset only apply to the United States?

  69. The pragmatist in me sees the logic, efficiency, and economy in arguing for the ‘government business must be conducted in English’ side.

    The libertarian in me appreciates the ‘making government accesible to as many as possible’ side.

    The libertarian also sees that if the goddamn government didn’t regulate so much of private and public life, the economic argument would fly out the window.

  70. Does this mean we can’t continue to use Arabic numerals?

  71. They’re Hindu numerals, John, but the answer is still no. Since there isn’t such a thing as English or American numerals, we’ll have to start over. Maybe with dots or something.

    Time (well, hours, minutes, and seconds, anyway) and degrees of a circle must go, too. They’re Babylonian (i.e., Iraqi).

    I have the strangest feeling of deja vu.

  72. “People like Joe do not do immigrants any favors by encouraging them to live in sheltered linguistic enclaves and not learn English.”

    John, if I was trying to argue your case, I’d resort to lying, too.

    I have never, not even once, stated anything even approximating this position. In fact, I have often commented on the positive development that has occured in American society, whereby ethnic ghettos where one need not know any English are becoming a thing of the past.

    Just another case of up being down in John-world.

    BTW, dickhead, have you worked up the courage to apologize for calling me “a longtime supporter and enabler of Saddam Hussein?”

  73. Speaking of foreign languages, what’s Spanish for “strawman?”

    Or “fake soldier?”

  74. thet’s (sic) “military lawyer” to yew (sic), goe (sic).

    so their (sic).

  75. joe,
    Hombre de paja. Mucho como “arma de fuego” es “firearm.” Tambien, “soldado de imatacion” es “fake soldier.” Ay Dios mio!

  76. Aye aye aye. Un gatto malodoro!

  77. “BTW, dickhead, have you worked up the courage to apologize for calling me “a longtime supporter and enabler of Saddam Hussein?”

    Why would I apologize for telling the truth? Joe you are too much fun to torture.

  78. On a positive note, Rep. Tom Tancredo’s (R-CO) bill to make English the official language of Earth was narrowly defeated.

  79. One last thing Joe. Not that I expect you to understand complex logic, but I will give it a shot. When you bend over backwards to accomodate people who can’t speak English you are in effect encouraging them not to speak English because you are lessening the price they pay for not doing so. It is kind of like paying teenagers more money after they have children and then wondering why there are so many teenage pregnancies. The easier you make it not to speak English, the more people won’t speak English and not assimilate. It is not that you intend them to be in language enclaves it is that the second order effects of what you advocate will do so. Considering that you probably can’t grasp the connection between teenage pregnancy and welfare, you are probably not going to grasp this concept either.

  80. I am conflicted on this matter. Let’s examine the different things that government does by dividing it into 4 parts: Mommy, Nanny, Big Brother, and Night Watchman.

    Mommy gives you stuff. Mommy redistributes. If you insist on taking advantage of Mommy’s largesse, at least learn English. And if Mommy only uses English, maybe that will encourage those who don’t know much English to find other ways to get by.

    Which sounds great, but let’s consider Nanny. Nanny makes you do stuff. You’re on your way to becoming a self-sufficient Juan Galt, but then Nanny comes in and says that you have to build your valley home according to code. And your English is still kind of rusty and you don’t understand all of the forms that she’s requiring you to fill out. If Nanny absolutely must hassle you, the least she can do is hassle you in your own language.

    Or maybe you’ve gotten tired of working for somebody else, so you decide to start your own business. Lots of immigrants take that daring leap. And you’re all excited, but then Nanny shows up and makes you fill out a bunch of forms. You have to jump through all these hoops before you can hire anybody, before you can sell anything, etc. And you’re bummed. Originally your plan was to hire a cashier who could speak English while you concentrated on making the product, but your cashier isn’t up to the task of doing paperwork in any language.

    Even worse, Big Brother shows up. Big Brother wants to take money from you. And not only will he take your money, he’s making you do a bunch of forms that are barely comprehensible to native English speakers, let alone somebody who doesn’t know much English.

    So I’d say that Big Brother should use more than one language, if he absolutely insists on hassling you.

    And then there’s the Night Watchman. In an ideal world, of course, Mommy, Nanny, and Big Brother would be laid off and Night Watchman would be the only government around. And in an ideal world people could do whatever they want (as long as they aren’t hurting anybody else, etc.) in whatever language they want. If you don’t know a word of English but you find clients who don’t care, so be it. Or if your English is kind of rusty so you hire somebody else to interact with English-speaking clients while you do whatever you do best, that would be fine too.

    The result is that Libertopia would probably have large numbers of people who don’t know English. Some of those people might witness crimes. Night Watchman had better be able to show up at the scene of a murder and ask the witnesses who did it. Otherwise he isn’t very useful.

    So Night Watchman had damn well better be multi-lingual.

    Of course, in one crucial area I would want Night Watchman to favor English: While it’s all well and good for Night Watchman to interview witnesses in other languages and help people with poor English skills sort out contract disputes, Night Watchman’s judicial and legislative branches should have one language that takes precedence over all others. If a law or ruling is ambiguous, or if something is awkward when translated, the meaning in the original English should be the binding one. We don’t want to make the law subject to a translator’s errors.

    My conclusion: Unless the government is giving you something, it should accomodate you in whatever language you are most comfortable in. But the gov’t should still have an official language for the purpose of precedent.

  81. “When you bend over backwards to accomodate people who can’t speak English you are in effect encouraging them not to speak English because you are lessening the price they pay for not doing so.”

    See, I disagree. We’re talking about public facilities, public communications, and such paragons of civic-minded, community activities like voting, participating in public events, going to public festivals, and utilizing public services. These are the types of activities that bring us together as Americans, Lowellians, or whatever. By drawing in people who would otherwise skip them, stay in their homes, ignore public events, and interact only with their ethnic or national cohort, these communications help to bring members of insular communities into the mainstream. They turn Cambodians Living in America (for example) into Cambodian Americans.

    I understand your desire for there to be a “stick,” rather than just the carrot I described above, to encourage immigrants to assimilate. Lord knows, you like to see people who are different than you beaten with sticks. But the private sector economy provides a pretty damn big stick all by itself – as you say, John, it’s tough to rise above cleaning hotels with zero English skills.

    And this carrot not only encourages linguistic assimilation – an essential part of structural assimilation, no doubt – but also political and social assimilation, encouraging people who lived under tyranny and are fearful of participating in politics (using the Cambodian example again) to act like, and see themselves as, members of our body politic.

    Now I’ll sit back and wait for your reply, John, because Lord knows you have such a deep grasp of the issues, such an abiding love for the honest exchange of ideas, and such an eager willingness to consider the reality and nuances of differing opinions.

    BTW, in most cases, it isn’t the torturer who ends up bloody and defeated on the floor, so I don’t think you torturing me is a very good metaphor for our debates. Son.

  82. I’ll bet anything that most proponents of an English-only law have flunked a foreign language course in school.

    I’m not exactly a proponent – this would be way down on my wish list – but I have no problem with it. And I speak two languages fluently and another three with low but generally increasing skill. I don’t see the connection.

    If I moved to another country, I certainly wouldn’t expect the government to accomodate me in English. And in fact, every other country I’ve visited, from Germany to Spain to China, would laugh in my face if I made such a demand. And since I tend to have a rather good view of immigrants here, I expect the vast majority of them feel the same way as I do in this regard, and therefore want to learn English. Should the government have some means to provide translations or translators in case of emergencies? Sure. But providing routine signs and brochures in every language imaginable is just counter-productive.

  83. Here’s what I don’t understand: in order to be granted citizenship you have to be able to speak some English, right? And to vote, you have to be a citizen, correct? So why do we have to have ballots in anything other than English?

  84. Papaya, have you ever read one of those ballot initiatives?

    “A Yes vote means, yes, I support the repeal of the amendment repealing the amendment…”

  85. This is all a moot point. If English becomes “official”, the reality in places like Miami or Seattle is that the government will have to do something to accommodate large non-English-speaking minorities. It’s all well and good to try to put the onus on those people, but the truth is that it just won’t work that way. There’s an argument that officializing (yes, I made that word up) English would give it a little more weight in maintaining a national language, but I don’t see any need for that. The whole planet is moving towards English as at least a second language, so I think we’re probably “safe” on our own soil.

  86. You make a good point Joe. Like anything else, taken in moderation, nothing ever does that much damage. Moreover, I overstate the case. If the country goes bi-lingual it won’t be the goverment that caused it, although it can effect a few things at the margins. I think Thoreau makes probably the best point. If you want welfare from the government, you probably ought to know English. If the government wants to arrest you or take you to court or take something from you, it probably ought to speak English.

  87. The biggest problems with this is not necessarily its effects, but rather the rather nasty message it sends.

    Make all the philosophical arguments you like, it still _sounds_ like blanket xenophobia. I may buy a few arguments (but only a few) about immigration reform, but this is just senseless and mean.

    We really have somehow wound up with the worst kind of Republicans, but it may very well be that this accurately reflects the populace as a whole.

    Scary thought. More and more I think we libertarians need to consider that our view of how the country should run is not a popular one, and work from that assumption going forward in trying to change minds.

  88. I mock Jesus by speaking English only in red letters.
    If I were as smart as He, I’d know HTML to prove my point.
    Whatever: Take that, Jesus!
    You big showoff!
    (How could You speak English so long before it had evolved?)

  89. Well John, it’s not just Mexicans but all of Central and South America (except Brazil) that speak Spanish. Not to mention PR.

  90. Personally, I am still steamed, on behalf of my ancestors, that German wasn’t made the official language of Pennsylvania back in the 1770s — that was, briefly, proposed. But it’s not too late! Is there any hope of kicking out English and making Pennsylfaanisch Deitsch the official US language? It should make libertarians happy, because only the Amish speak it any more, and they certainly aren’t going to force anybody to do anything!

  91. This debate got me thinking about California’s Proposition 227, the “English for the Children” initiative, which passed in the late ’90s. Proposition 227 grew out of a school boycott at 9th Street Elementary School in Los Angeles. Parents angry about a school program that taught their children primarily in Spanish pulled their children out of the school.

    http://www.onenation.org/1996/021496.html

    …I suspect some of the commenters in this thread will find the following curious, but the parents that got so upset about “bilingual education” were Spanish speakers themselves. In fact, Spanish speaking, Latino parents are often the most vocal opponents of bilingual education–my understanding is that they see it as an impediment to their children’s’ assimilation into American culture, etc.

    Listening to the anti-immigrant types, you’d think this was a political fight between Americans who want Spanish speaking immigrants to assimilate on the one hand and Spanish speaking immigrants who want to resist assimilation on the other. …but that doesn’t seem the case. …If anything, this looks to me like it’s between xenophobes afraid of Spanish speaking immigrants on the one hand and those who don’t want the government to discriminate against those with a first language other than English on the other.

  92. In keeping with what I said above, let me pose a few questions:

    1) If an immigrant comes here and tries to start a business but he doesn’t understand the bewildering array of paperwork that the gov’t puts in front of him, should the gov’t at least be nice enough to provide the paperwork in a language that he reads and writes more fluently?

    2) If the gov’t insists on taking part of an immigrant’s money, should the gov’t at least do it in a language that he reads and writes more fluently?

  93. “Re:I believe we are still the only country in the world that does not have an official language. You’d think the English First crowd could rally around our uniqueness with a hearty “America! Fuck Yeah!”

    From Wiki…
    “Approximately half of the world’s states have official languages.”

    But I like their take on the broader issue…

    “The USA Federal Government can not declare an official language by federal law, since the United States is comprised of sovereign states. … English is the first language by custom and majority…English is an official language in the following states and territories:

    * Alabama
    * Alaska
    * Arkansas
    * California
    * Colorado
    * Florida
    * Georgia
    * Hawaii (with Hawaiian language)
    * Illinois
    * Indiana
    * Iowa
    * Kentucky
    * Louisiana (with French)
    * Massachusetts
    * Mississippi
    * Missouri
    * Montana
    * Nebraska
    * New Hampshire
    * New Mexico (with Spanish)
    * North Carolina
    * North Dakota
    * Puerto Rico (with Spanish)
    * South Carolina
    * South Dakota
    * Tennessee
    * U.S. Virgin Islands
    * Utah
    * Virginia
    * West Virginia
    * Wyoming

  94. I’m trying to figure out what that’s supposed to mean, MainstreamMan. If someone in 1960 showed you a list of states with Jim Crow laws, what would that mean? Let’s assume all the states on your list have official languages in some capacity, what is that supposed to mean? I could show you a list of states where the death penalty is prohibited. …wouldn’t that be pointless?

    So that’s why the English First crowd doesn’t rally around that! …So what?

  95. thoreau-

    1) If an immigrant comes here and tries to start a business but he doesn’t understand the bewildering array of paperwork that the gov’t puts in front of him, should the gov’t at least be nice enough to provide the paperwork in a language that he reads and writes more fluently?

    Why? I speak English fluently… but, when I don’t understand that ‘bewildering array of paperwork'(written in “Lawyer-ese”), I have to pay $150/hr. to hire someone who does. Why should I now be forced to also subsidize someone else’s ignorance?

    2) If the gov’t insists on taking part of an immigrant’s money, should the gov’t at least do it in a language that he reads and writes more fluently?

    The Gov’t has large numbers of guns, and too many ‘jackbooted thugs’ willing to use them! The Gov’t will take his money even if he doesn’t understand the language– and if he doesn’t like it, he can always go back home…

    But, since we’re in Santa Claus land— “…and a pony, too!”

  96. Nick Gillespie’s anti-English-Only column – the one that launched a thousand crazy emails – is here.
    That’s not true, is it? Weren’t the emails in response to the debate that Nick! lost on FOX?

  97. Ken Shultz,

    Front page of today’s Boston Globe (www.boston.com/globe) has a story about the effects of the ballot initiative that sought to eliminate bilingual education in Massachusetts, passed two years ago. Test scores have gone down, many kids put into immersion programs are achieving nothing academically, all kinds of bad outcomes.

    The interesting part is reading the defenders of the bill, including the guy who pushed it so hard in California, Arizona, and Massachusetts. They make the argument, “It isn’t that English immersion has any problems, it’s that it’s being implemented badly.” Which is funny, because that is exactly the same defense opponents of the bill gave when defending bilingual education.

    I’m going to go out on a limb, and guess that “9th Street Elementary School in Los Angeles” is an urban hellhole school, which has bigger problems than the curriculum it uses to teach non-English-speaking students the language.

  98. John,

    “Like anything else, taken in moderation, nothing ever does that much damage.”

    A good sentiment, but I think there’s another point here: you seem to be somewhat familiar with a certain radical, anti-American argument against assimilation and an official language. You make a mistake, however, when you assume that this argument is what motivates most of the people who oppose the policy.

    I’ve said this to you before, and I hope you’ll take it to heart; you seem overly reliant on venomous right wing publications to tell what liberals think, while ignoring the arguments liberals actually make.

    Many commenters on this thread have made arguments against the adoption of English as an official language. Can you point to even one who has done so on the grounds you assume underly that position?

  99. I have no problem with Cities or States offering services in additional languages, but from a Federal point of view, so long as ballots and such are offered in English, there should be a safe harbor provision preventing law suits from the Tagalog community.

    CA offers drivers licenses in 31 different languages.

    http://www.dmv.ca.gov/dl/dl_info.htm#languages

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