Patterico's Pontifications

5/18/2006

Senate: English Should Be Our National Language

Filed under: General — Patterico @ 8:49 pm



Via Instapundit comes word that the Senate has passed the Inhofe Amendment, which would make English the national language.

Seems like a no-brainer, ¿no es verdad?

UPDATE: Is anyone here surprised to learn that Harry Reid says that the amendment is racist?

Yeah, me neither.

40 Responses to “Senate: English Should Be Our National Language”

  1. I’ve never quite understood what the point to such legislation was. Is it an empty declaration, like “this is love trees day” proclamations, is the idea to make it illegal for the government to communicate with people in languages other than english (which would be bad in certain contexts), is the idea to prohibit the use of english in the workplace (which would be a bad idea in my workplace), etc?

    What is the actual goal of an “official language” declaration?

    aphrael (e0cdc9)

  2. Next thing you know, they’ll be passing a law declaring Caucasian the official race.

    Xrlq (0e2175)

  3. One possible outcome of all this is that it might put an end to providing voter guides and ballots in languages other than English.

    JVW (d667c9)

  4. JVW: it “might”. Are you saying that nobody knows what the actual practical effect of such a declaration is?

    (Yeah, i’m in an unusually bad and argumentative mood).

    But there’s a point here: *either* this is a measure without substance, or it has some hidden substance which isn’t actually revealed. So, if it’s the former, what’s the point? If it’s the latter, why not reveal the substance?

    aphrael (e0cdc9)

  5. It sounds like mass hysteria in the Senate. By Friday night, we ought to be able to see which amendments and which bills have passed in this blizzard.

    Patricia (2cc180)

  6. Symbolic, hell.

    Language ‘protection’ and cultural paranoia cost Montreal and Quebec economic primacy in the 70’s as corporate HQ’s decamped for Toronto.

    steve (86c845)

  7. Does that mean that ‘E PLURIBUS UNUM’ is going to be removed from the dollar?

    And do we have a government agency declare what is english enough? Like, for example, “entrepeneur”?

    actus (6234ee)

  8. JVW: it “might”. Are you saying that nobody knows what the actual practical effect of such a declaration is?

    Aphrael, I don’t think anyone knows what the effect of most of these amendments will be. A border fence (of some sort) may or may not make unauthorized border crossings more difficult; an official English amendment may or may not empower municipalities to quit providing multilingual services. There are too many other factors at play (local politics and budget issues to name two) to make any kind of sweeping predictions.

    You don’t think this is the first time that Congress has passed legislation that may turn out to only be symbolic, do you? I have a feeling you are a much more astute observer of the political scene than that.

    JVW (d667c9)

  9. an official English amendment may or may not empower municipalities to quit providing multilingual services

    Is this what’s animating this stuff? that someone might get a bus map in chinese?

    actus (6234ee)

  10. JVW: thank you for the compliment. 🙂 You’re right that i’m well aware of the fact that Congress has often passed meaningless symbolic legislation. But i’m in a snarkier mood than I should be and so my comments are coming out rougher than normal. 🙂

    I guess what i’m puzzled by, though, is this: there are a large number of people who think that declaring english to be the official language of the state would be a good thing. One of them is our host. Presuming they think it will have more than symbolic effect, what do they think it will do?

    And if it will have only symbolic effect, why do they want it?

    aphrael (3bacf3)

  11. Steve – but that decamping was the result of laws that mandated that things be done, or things written, in French. Such mandates do not automatically follow from a law declaring English the official language.

    Or do they? Is that what the people promoting this law think they are getting?

    aphrael (3bacf3)

  12. It’s just sugar for the amnesty pill.

    nk (2ab789)

  13. The english only declaration may be silly, but I don’t understand how it can be compared to a “caucasian only” declaration. You have something against white people? If you live in LA, you should be concerned that 53% of the population is “functionally illiterate” in any language. (http://www.unitedwayla.org/pages/rpts_resource/literacyatworkexecsum.pdf)

    Furthermore, you cannot have a civil society when everyone speaks a different toungue and cannot communicate with each other. Ever stand behind two mexicans who can’t read the menu at In-N-Out? It’s frustrating to witness, even when the pictures of the food on the oh-so-extensive menu are prominently displayed.

    petit bourgeois (ee1d60)

  14. Petit Bourgeois – aye, and i’ve also been a tourist in a country where I didn’t speak the language.

    aphrael (3bacf3)

  15. Hell Man! And what about the ones who are not fluent with it.Go in for Voting and amend the act accordingly for english as the national language.

    jacob (24ec5a)

  16. PB: methinks thou hast fallen into the great sarchasm.

    Aphrael:

    I guess what I’m puzzled by, though, is this: there are a large number of people who think that declaring english to be the official language of the state would be a good thing.

    I assume by “state” you mean “country.” English already is the official language of many states, including California (Cal. Const. Art. 3, Sec. 6). Not having read the federal legislation in question (nor even heard of it until after it had passed), I don’t know what it will do, if anything, but my guess is 90% symbolism, 10% substantive defense against frivolous lawsuits alleging a “right” to naturalize as a U.S. citizen without learning English, a “right” to vote in Swahili, etc.

    Xrlq (f52b4f)

  17. As I see it, if there is an ‘official’ language, then it becomes the business of the residents of the country to make sure they are able to understand communications of the State, rather than the business of the State to make sure that versions of those communications have been provided in every possible language. The State MAY still provide translations, but can no longer be REQUIRED to do so.

    Of course the Judges who magically discovered the ‘Right” of people to have translations in the first place never gave a damn about the letter of the Law in the first place, so the actual effect of such an amendment will probably be nil, at least at first.

    C. S. P. Schofield (c1cf21)

  18. I do think English should be the offical language and that should be more than symbolism.
    That should mean that all business by the government is done in English and that in order to be employed in a government job you must be fluent in English. I would even go so far as to say special tax incentives or disincentives should be applied to establishing English as “THE language of the USA.

    The reason is that language is a very unifying force and that we have enough difficulty in talking to each other in the same language never mind six different ones,..or even two. There is a certain identity that is developed among people speaking the same language. Do you think our relationship with England would be the same if we spoke German? We might have not even fought with them in WW1.
    No foreigners should find it difficult to get along if they dont speak English but they should be given every help and incentive to learn.

    charlie (e16458)

  19. Charlie: all business by the government? Even communications with foreign heads of state? Or interrogation of prisoners who don’t speak English? Or forms for tourist visas and/or customs forms (which are filled out by people here on tourist visas?)

    I don’t have a problem with the government communicating in multiple languages. It’s awkward if it’s required in all cases, but in some cases it’s clearly appropriate.

    aphrael (e7c761)

  20. Senator Reid, in tagging the legislation as racist, should note that native speakers of Spanish come in white, black and mestizo colors.

    dchamil (e9150f)

  21. Aphrael:

    I think that this is an attempt to answer a history of judicial decisions REQUIRING the local, state, and Federal governments to provide translation service regardless of sense or actual demand. The government would still be free to print (or have someone speak) in Spanish, Japanese, Tagalog, or whatever, when it was in the interests of the United States that it do so.

    For instance; We might send a diplomatic communication to the Japanese government in Japanese, because we want them to do us a favor, while sending one to the President of Iran in English, to remind him that he is a barbarian from a insular and backward society.

    Similarly, the government may choose to print forms in Spanish so that recent immigrants can comply with the law, but if this resolution works as I hope it will no longer be required that every small cultural exhibit that receives Federal money print everything in multiple languages.

    It’s a way of saying; “this is our country. If we speak your language, it is because we wish to welcome you and be gracious, but if you want to understand what is really going of you need to learn our language.”

    C. S. P. Schofield (c1cf21)

  22. As I see it, if there is an ‘official’ language, then it becomes the business of the residents of the country to make sure they are able to understand communications of the State, rather than the business of the State to make sure that versions of those communications have been provided in every possible language.

    Something about government depending on the consent of the governed? Or the opposite?

    actus (6234ee)

  23. xlrq-

    ok, i get it now. thanks.

    But it is not inconceivable to have an official race of a country: mexico has one, as the mestizo is the official race of the country and has “la dia de la raza” on what we would call columbus day, Oct. 12.

    petit bourgeois (ee1d60)

  24. Actus,
    Re:consent of the governed;

    All that is required is that the majority of the governed feel it is a good idea to have an official language; otherwise your comment is disingenuous, as it would appear that you feel that the governing are forcing something upon the governed, against their will. In a democracy that is nearly always true, it just matters if it is a majority or not (someone almost always disagrees, in a large enough group). Or are you suggesting that this is an example of a “Tyranny of the majority”
    ?
    Cheers.

    galletador (b58eba)

  25. All that is required is that the majority of the governed feel it is a good idea to have an official language;

    In general don’t see a constitutional bar to the government speaking a language its subjects don’t understand. So the majority does get to do government business in a way the minority doesn’t understand. Hooray for majoritarianism!

    But I do see some constitutional rights that can have language issues. Like the confrontation clause, for example.

    actus (6234ee)

  26. In the mid-sixties, I grew up and went to grade school with Puerto Rican kids who had to learn English from word one. My best friend and former partner has parents who learned English when they left Puerto Rico to come to the mainland, still speak English with a heavy accent and prefer to speak Spanish among themselves. I had a classmate who “came to America” from the Pima Indian reservation who spoke English with an accent. These are born American citizens. Louisiana’s Cajuns are too. The appeal to the hick base by making English the “official” language is just a fraud — it is sugar coating for the amnesty pill the Senate will try to force down our throats. Snark: Like any law voted on by the Congress or a legislature in any of the fifty states and signed by the President or the respective governors was in any language other than English. OK, the official color of the American sky is blue.

    nk (956ea1)

  27. Actus, regarding your comments in #9 and following: the problem is that the taxpayer ends up having to pay for all the document translations, interpreters, bilingual language instructors, etc. I don’t remember the exact number, but I do recall hearing that there are dozens and dozens of languages spoken by children in the Los Angeles Unified School District. If people expect that they can live in America without learning English because good old Tio Sam will go ahead and provide translation services for free.

    So yeah, I would mind the bus schedules being translated in Chinese and distributed without charge to the riders, mostly because here in LA you would have to also do them in Spanish, Russian, Japanese, Korean, Vietnamese, Arabic, Farsi, etc.

    JVW (d667c9)

  28. The Senate is currently considering S.2611, the immigration bill. Senator Inhofe offered Amendment No. 4064 to that bill. His amendment would “declare English as the national language of the United States and to promote the patriotic integration of prospective US citizens.” The amendment was agreed to.

    Thereafter, Senator Salazar of Colorado offered Amendment No. 4073 that would “declare that English is the common and unifying language of the United States, and to preserve and enhance the role of the English language.” This amendment was also agreed to. Thus, as a result of the Salazar amendment, this legislation would not make English the US national language and it is completely symbolic.

    DRJ (7a704d)

  29. aphrel,,ok ok obviously there are some instances in which we have to speak something other than English.. But my fear is that as a nation we are growing apart and that language is a unifying factor and that we should all be able to communicate with each other in a common language. Otherwise a very important common bond is destroyed.. What thinkest yee?

    charlie (e16458)

  30. One other point…if I want to tell George Bush to go “F” himself why should I be forced to say that in several languages and not one??

    charlie (e16458)

  31. So yeah, I would mind the bus schedules being translated in Chinese and distributed without charge to the riders, mostly because here in LA you would have to also do them in Spanish, Russian, Japanese, Korean, Vietnamese, Arabic, Farsi, etc.

    Gotta do what you gotta do to get people on the bus.

    actus (5b2f21)

  32. Gotta do what you gotta do to get people on the bus.

    Because people can’t figure out how to use a bus unless the schedules are in their own language. After all, times and place names are so very language-sensitive.

    McGehee (5664e1)

  33. Because people can’t figure out how to use a bus unless the schedules are in their own language. After all, times and place names are so very language-sensitive

    Sounds like its not even english sometimes.

    actus (6234ee)

  34. Yeah, so having a national race holiday is ok for mexico, but not for me? You people are so fucking clueless.

    petit bourgeois (ee1d60)

  35. Regarding English on ballots, why is no one concerned about the voting rights of English-only-speaking voters?
    I’m a registered voter, and I do not speak or read Spanish, Chinese nor any of the other languages into which referenda has been translated over the past few years. Don’t I have a right to know what’s being proposed to people who claim the right to vote but not the responsibility to be able to read a ballot in English?

    Susan McCrindle (c8c955)

  36. Don’t I have a right to know what’s being proposed to people who claim the right to vote but not the responsibility to be able to read a ballot in English?

    Um, read the english part?

    actus (6234ee)

  37. Petit Bourgeois,

    There is a holiday for you. April 1.

    DRJ (d25820)

  38. Has anybody considered how this might affect businesses?

    As a restaurant owner, I’m required to put up signs in English and Spanish — even though everyone one in my staff speaks and reads English fluently. Now, imagine what a business owner in north Orange County, CA, where there are a number of Vietnamese speakers in addition to Spanish speakers might some day go through.

    If English is the official language, I won’t be required to have signs in multiple languages. It’s a small victory, to be sure, but a victory nonetheless.

    Taking it a step further, if English is the official language, wouldn’t that afford business owners a little more legal coverage in hiring employees fluent in English?

    Steverino (a5637c)

  39. Steverino, I wouldn’t count on that. As I noted in a prior comment, English has been the official language in California for 20 years. If that hasn’t stopped businesses from being required to post stuff in foreign languages, I doubt a federal law will, either.

    Xrlq (1b3398)

  40. XRLQ – you’re right that I meant “country”, and I am aware that California passed a ballot initiative in the mid-80s making English the official language. I have a tendency to use ‘state’ in a political science theory sense even in places where the meaning is overloaded and my usage is ambiguous.

    Charlie (#29): Language can be a unifying factor, and it would be nice if we could all communicate with one another. But the US has always had substantial non-English speaking minorities (see, for example, the various Amish and Mennonite communities, or the Texas Germans); i’m not convinced that the presence of non-English-speaking minorities is per se disruptive. I also think that the United States is stunningly monolingual when compared with the rest of the world, and think that we would do well to decide, as a culture, that we were going to be multilingual.

    Susan (re: #35): what i’m hearing you say here is that you don’t trust the translator to translate accurately. Does that mean you also oppose, say, providing translations of court proceedings for non-English-speaking defendants?

    aphrael (e0cdc9)


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