English Only

Saturday, April 08, 2006

English Only?

This post has been adopted from a comment left in an earlier post by Marigold dealing with the idea that immigrants must learn English. Marigold wrote an amazing piece that I wish everybody would read, but I'd also like to weigh in on this.

It has to do with this idea that immigrants have to learn English. Sometimes this manifests in attempts to pass English only laws or some other nonsense in which the English language is hailed as the "official language" of this country. Immigrants are characterized as lazy people who don't want to learn our groovy language. Afterall, they're only here to steal our jobs, right?

This should not be seen as some effort to have the United States adopt other languages as its official language. Instead I simply recognize that their are plenty of communities within the borders of this nation that do not speak English as their primary language. Believe it or not but you can drive into communities where all the signs are in Russian or Vietnamese or even Spanish. And quite frankly I think that's great.

If we had a society that actually valued education rather than indoctrination every child would be fluent in at least 8 languages by the time he or she was eight-years-old. Such a ludicrous idea as to limit ourselves to one "official" language should be viewed as myopic. It's akin to only playing one note on all musical instruments. And somehow we're to believe that this one note is special and worthy of our reverance. All the while a rainbow of beautiful sounds are lost on our ears.

Fellow Blue Voicer Neil defended such a stance on English by saying "I would not expect the people of Mexico to adapt to my linguistic limitations" The problem, of course, is he has no linguistic limitations. Americans have no defect that would prevent us from learning another language; more importantly many of us have the resources that many immigrant families lack to pursue the study of another language at a local university. The simple fact is we have no linguistic limitation other than the one we impose on ourselves.

Learning another language only opens up our world. The languages we speak are lenses we use to interpret the world. Why would we want just one lens? Various languages allow us to express ourselves in unique ways. When I tell a friend lo siento en Espanol it carries a very different meaning than the English translation of "I'm sorry." In Spanish you're not only showing regret for what you've done but expressing the idea that you literally "feel it", i.e., you feel the pain you have caused. How could one every adequately express the Sanskrit term Dharma which conotes so many things?

The North American continent has been host to a great many languages in the past and will be host to a great many languages in the future. Instead of seeking to control this ebb and flow of language, we should simply enjoy the symphony we are orchestrating through our myriad of languages. Sabes a decir la paz en un idioma differente que ingles?

Published in: on April 19, 2006 at 11:51 pm  Leave a Comment  

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