Sunday, July 13, 2008

English and the USA

Okay, I figure here's as good a place to begin as any, with my new blogging phase (with a promise to keep it up!).

I just saw an interview with an advocate for making English the official language of the USA and he expressed outrage over Barack Obama's fervent plea to families to teach their children Spanish (the most prevalent language in the US). Why the outrage? For those who have accused Senator Obama of elitist statements, this has GOT to be the most elitist movement of all!

We here in Quebec realize the value of two languages. While it hasn't always been an easy pill to swallow, and still has remnants of ridiculous laws (the French signs being double the size of English signs, the still-present language police), it has been a gift to be able to speak another language, especially when traveling abroad where French is taught in most countries.

So why is the USA - which boasts a large Hispanic population - trying to shut out the other "unofficial" language spoken by so many of its citizens? The US claims it values all its citizens, and allegedly boasts pride in its diversity and certainly tries to embrace the diversity and teach tolerance among people; but I tend to judge by actions and not words. By trying to officialize the English language, the US is, in essence, telling the Latino community that their communication doesn't count unless it's done in a language that is - for most - a second language. By trying to make English "official" (and heaven knows what that bill or amendment or whatever form it takes will spawn), the US is telling the Spanish-speaking population (not to mention other communities with other languages) that they aren't as official as the English-speaking citizens.

And by doing so, they are simply negating all of their "embrace diversity" rhetoric and becoming no better than Orwellian thought police.

I wonder to what end this will go - why bother to make it an official language unless it is going to be enforced? How will language be enforced among the citizens of a country which boasts 10 times the population of Canada? Will they force newcomers to the States to go to English-speaking schools and not retain their heritage in any way but at home? Will they do away with the Latino shops where signage is Spanish and the culture is rich? Will they disallow Korean or Chinese or Japanese shop owners, restaurant owners, business owners, their native language in signs, on labels, or in service?

Will we begin to see "right to die in my native language" headlines in the USA as we've seen here in Quebec? While Canada has 2 official languages, Quebec's is French first, and we can all attest to the political debates and hard feelings this has invoked over the decades. Will we see predominantly Spanish states begin to talk of secession from the rest of the country?

They should be examining history - OUR history - for lessons in this venue and start to embrace diversity lawfully as well as culturally. They don't know what they're in for if they make this a law..!


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