The United States of America is the melting pot of cultures and values permeated to its “American” way of life. Along this line, this cultures and values bring with them its languages so unique with each other culture that as such ethnic people grew over times; the language also conquers the different corners of the great American Dream. Now, English language is in a precarious situation whether or not it is still viable to allow it to remain as US’ official language. And since a significant number of US nationals feel comfortable speaking a language other than English, the federal government should reconsider English as the official language of the United States.
This paper will examine the evolution of “English” as an American language. Also, it will explore the dimension of the English Only Movement (EOM) and the Melting Pot Theory in relation to “English” as an official American language.
In 2001, Harrop reported that from the recently concluded 2002 U.S. census revealed that “49 percent of Hispanics in America are not fluent in English.” As the fastest growing United States’ minority, the Hispanic population represents 12.5 percent of the population. Harrop also revealed that the Hispanic’s legal picture is astonishing as EEOC data revealed that the complaints lodge before it have more than doubled in 5 years and settlements have risen to over $50 million (Harrop, 2001).
The United States’ inhabitants have never had any official language to speak of. Over 6 % of United States’ primary school children were instructed in German until the World War I and now over 45 million American nationals still state that their forefathers spoke German. The large scale immigration of the 20th century led to the inhabitance of multilingual people inside the US, thus, around 336 different languages are presently spoken which comprise 176 endemic dialects. Also, more than 47 million American nationals use a language other than English within their homes including 30 million Spanish speakers.
When the US Senate voted to select English as the official language and prohibited the use of other languages for federal government orders and services with a vote of 63-34, the US Senate it self was placed in a dilemma as the law barred effectively other languages is the US documents. Thus, Oklahoma Republican Senator James Inhofe offered an amendment to remedy this problem because it split the Senate along largely party lines, with only nine of the 44 Democrats voting for it, and just one Republican voting against (Cornwell 2006). On the part of former Democratic minority (now Majority) leader Harry Reid, he identified this amendment as “racist” whereas Ken Salazar, a Colorado Democrat of Hispanic origin, described it as “divisive and anti-American” (Cornwell, 2006).
The rationale for these two statements issued by US Senate’s distinguished members hinges on the fact that law passed neglects any provisions for services in languages other than English. This would be a problematic situation for those Americans who cannot speak English fluently. Also, the law in effect would also force new immigrants to have considerable knowledge of English language before they get US nationality. On the historical hindsight, English language was voted out German by a difference of just one vote when it was selected as the official language of the US by Congressmen in the year 1795 (Cornwell 2006).
In protecting the minority’s right on education, the Majority (through the US Congress) passed into law the Bilingual Education Act of 1968. This act protects the immigrants who were limited English proficient and at the same time meet their needs as they assimilate to the American society.
Crawford revealed the law was enacted when the US was the apex of the Great Society and was signed into law by President Johnson without a single voice raised in dissent. In spite of this landmark legislation’s noble aims, the Americans public has spent the past 30 years debating what the law wants to accomplish.
Thus, following questions were raised: “[w]as this 1968 law intended primarily to assimilate limited-English-proficient (LEP) children more efficiently? [t]o teach them English as rapidly as possible? [t]o encourage bilingualism and biliteracy? [t]o remedy academic underachievement and high dropout rates? [t]o raise the self-esteem of minority students? [t]o promote social equality? [o]r to pursue all of these goals simultaneously? These questions were never answered in the Congress’ journals of its proceedings (50).
English Only Movement
The English Only Movement (EOM), a movement initiated in the 1980s, is a sequel of the procedure of domestic colonialism which leads to other languages which are spoken by minorities’ demolition.
In 1979, a Carnegie Corporation’s report pointed out that “bilingual education was the preeminent civil rights issue within Hispanic communities” (Penna & Shepherd; p. 147). Thus, the bilingual education became a key issue that create distress in the Mexican community inside the United States according to different researches carried out by the U.S. Civil Rights Commission ( 1967- 1975).
The researches also reveled that the US academic system was thought of as being against the cultural traditions of the Mexican population resulting to a negative effects on the Mexicans including inferiority complexes. It is in this instance that the community traditions and customs’ eradication is no doubt, an abuse of the basic civil rights of these people in regard to community’s linguistic and cultural survival.
On the domestic front, the English Only Movement’s amendment in the state of California was a triumph for those who support the use of English as an official language. It gave legal status to an issue that goes against biculturalism and bilingualism.
The between 1986 and 1989, voters and legislators in thirty-nine states took into account plans analogous to that of Californian amendment. This led to the appearance of 17 states with English as the official language. The English Only Movement is successful in bringing bilingual education policy to the leading position of national debate that includes questions, the approach of scientific teachings of bilingual education and a federal resolution that could shed light as to why English should be the official language of the United States.
Melting Pot Theory
The current discussion over the bilingualism is hinges on the theory that the United States is an assimilationist society or a form of society embracing many minority groups and culture traditions. And this theory is very old. Though this was the case, there were some exchanging of views forcefully stating that United States is a melting pot, which theorizes that people of various nations settle in America and forced to resemble which means to become an American completely.
Lawmakers Push Official English reported in the Washington Post revealed that the March 14 to 16 poll of 1,007, with a margin of error of three percentage points showed that 63 percent of Americans would like to have their ballots and voting materials only in English as compared to those 35 percent who wanted them printed in English and other languages (Lawmakers Push Official English, A06).
The results in this opinion poll adheres to the results of the Myths of the Melting Pot’s study which, though noble as it is, spread all throughout a wrong ideas about languages which are mostly not challenged nor supported by historical records. In fact, US language policy’s history on the subject– or lack of one – both work at lower consequences than the logical basis for official English language and provide a warning lesson about any actions to restricting languages which are rarely in use. The following are points to ponder in this regard:
Unfavorable to the myth, the United States has never been a basic speaking and/or using only one language country. By the period of time, one from eight of permanent inhabitants reported a languages background other than English in 1976, this is variety of nothing new but some skilled persons in languages or study of languages believe that the United States has been the habitant of more persons able to speak two languages than any other nation in the history of the world. As early as 1664, when the colony of the New Netherlands came into possession of British, eighteen different languages were spoken on Manhattan Island, not including the language spoken by the local inhabitants of America which were numbered more than five hundred in North America at the time.
Considering the US history, the prevailing federal policy on languages has only maintained tolerance and adjustments. In spite of the language variety in 1787, the famous took no interest to protect or encourage English: United States constituents. Because discussion were held in private and we must depend on James Madison’s informal notes, it is not clear, if any language issues came up during the federal agreement on social behavior in Philadelphia (Farrand 1913). But available facts strongly suggest that our early leaders regarded language laws of any type as a cause of harm to civil freedom from captivity.
Recognizing about rarely spoken languages reflected bilingual and non-English – language schools which were ordinary in many districts until the long time period of World War I. In 1710, British missionaries were invited to maintain schools among the Iroquois League of Ally States, with the demand that students should be informed or taught with their national languages. Parts of bible which were translated in Mohawk language were included in the texts used. In 1802, Congress began a yearly devotion of ($15,000) to encourage “civilization among the old inhabitants (before the arrival of colonists).” This money was devoted to religious schools in which many schools were bilingual.
The liberation policy on languages was the best and ideal policy for this country, but it is no upheld especially among people conquered and angry for supposed un-justice; people living in colonies and some racial people. Attitudes of the 19th centuries towards their right of language were considerably less tolerant than say towards speakers of German, French or Scandinavian languages
Language is another example of making sure that the class’s position in society prevails. This paper has shown the many ways that minority languages are saved from oblivion in the US. For this reason, it is important to known by the baffling ways in which this is happening.
Official English/English Only’s websites revealed that “[e]nglish as the nation’s dominant language is no more threatened at the turn of the 21st century than it was at the turn of the 20th. To the contrary, it is all the other languages that are endangered – and would soon die out, if not for the replenishing effects of immigration” (Official English/English Only, n.p.).
English as an official US language has been an issue for decades by which some influential groups/people have been trying to restrict other languages and promote English Language. On the other hand, this policy has not been accepted nor approved by the majority of Americans as it is discriminatory to other equal language. This idea is not hidden. Making English as the US official language is the agenda of White Americans – it also unveils the approach of White American as they don’t want more immigrants from the third world countries. It will be discriminatory to other language and this moved, if ever, is contrary to the hope and aspirations why this country was founded and continued to be strong.
Cornwell, Rupert. May 20, 2006. At last, America has an official language (and yes, it’s English) Independent, The (London)
James Crawford. Language Politics in the U.S.A.: The Paradox of Bilingual Education. Journal Social Justice. Volume: 25. Issue: 3. Year: 1998. Page Number: 50
Maureen E. Harrop. Managing a Non-English-Speaking Workforce – Hispanic Americans – Brief Article – Statistical Data Included. Modern Machine Shop, Nov, 2001
Accessed, April 21, 2007
Lawmakers Push Official English; Bills Tied to Immigration Reform. The Washington Times. Publication Date: April 3, 2006. Page Number: A06.
Official English/English Only . n.d. http://www.elladvocates.org/englishonly.html
Accessed, April 21, 2007
David Penna and George W. Shepherd Jr. Racism and the Underclass: State Policy and Discrimination against Minorities.Publisher: Greenwood Press. Place of Publication: New York. Year: 1991. Page Number: 145.