Monday, July 09, 2012

America's Language

Today, I saw a bumper sticker depicting a snarling, finger-pointing Uncle Sam, with the caption: "If you can't speak English, get the HELL out of America!"  Ironically enough, the vehicle this was plastered on was a Suzuki hatchback.


There is no official language of the United States.  According to the most recent census data, nearly 20% of American citizens speak some language other than English as their primary language.  That's about 1 in 5, and that only refers to citizens of the U.S. - not immigrants.  No less than 20 different languages (including English) have at least 250,000 native speakers in the United States.  English never has been, and never will be, the only language spoken by Americans, no matter how badly ignorant xenophobes want it to be otherwise.

The fact is, in the United States today, there is virtually no one who doesn't have an ancestor somewhere in their family tree who didn't arrive in this country unable to speak English.  Even families like mine, who have mostly British Isles extraction, almost always have non-English speaking ancestry in some branch somewhere.  So rather than pointing your finger and lamenting about all the people who don't speak English, just thank your lucky stars that your family arrived here long enough before you were born that you never had to worry about learning a new language.

There's a reason that the U.S. Constitution doesn't include any wording about English, or any other language, being the official language of the United States - it's because the United States was founded on the principle of the melting pot, open to anyone who wants to come here and live and work and be a productive member of society.  Multi-lingualism has been part and parcel of the American way since before Day 1.  Martin Van Buren, our nation's eighth president, was not only the very first American president born a U.S. citizen (that is, born in America after the Revolutionary War), but he was also a native Dutch speaker who spoke English as a second language, and with a heavy Dutch accent, until the day he died.  And guess what?  Nobody gave a damn.

In the modern world, the only countries that legally name just one official language are island nations, military and Communist dictatorships, and Muslim theocracies.  Want to join that crowd, O patriotic Lover of Freedom?

On any given day, when you encounter people who don't speak English, or don't speak it well, in 9 out of 10 cases, you are encountering people who have probably not been in this country for very long.  The fact is, 96% of Americans, regardless of what their native language is, say they speak and understand English "well" or "very well."  Give newcomers a chance to learn the damn language before you go around getting your unwashed, skid-marked panties in a wad.

In numerous regional areas in the United States, English is a second language.  This includes huge swaths of places like Louisiana and Texas, among others.  If you're so concerned about what languages people are speaking, why don't you march your pretentious little ass down into the bayous of the Creole country, or the drug-smuggling cities of the Chicano regions, and preach about it to some of the passers-by.  I'm sure they'd LOVE to hear your opinions.

Numerous immigrants come to this country every year, and the vast majority of them are hardworking, diligent individuals whose industry is a enormous economic boon to the cities and counties and states they are working in.  Many of those people go on to become active citizens of the United States.  Others work for a few years and then return home.  In any case, scores of those same people work tirelessly to learn English, while also raising families and working, in many cases, 15 or 18 hours a day.

So instead of sitting there on your NASCAR-watching, fat American ass, too goddamn lazy to press "1" on your touch-tone phone, and criticizing people who make up a vital segment of this population, why don't you instead just give a simple thank-you to those folks who make your life a little bit better?  Either way, I don't give a damn what you think you are entitled to!


(Sorry, I segued into a line from A Few Good Men there at the end.  But it somehow seemed appropriate.)


Wandering Hermit said...

Good post Scott. I have a conservative coworker that was upset that he had to listen to Spanish at the Miami airport recently, in addition to English. The irony is that so many of the people that demand English-only are also proponents of "State's Rights" - And it IS a State issue: if Florida and Texas want to print ballots in two languages, what business does the federal government have in it?

Anonymous said...

I agree with eveything you said except for the NASCAR comment. Leave the left turners out of this.

Anonymous said...

HA!!!!!! I said the exact same thing in an email to him and on Facebook, Anonymous. You undermine your argument by stereotyping in a post about stereotyping!

Joe said...

There is no right to selectively hear the language of your choice (nor the ability to do so). Living in the greater NYC area you get used to hearing all kinds of languages, but.. When people want something, they ask for it in clear English. Out here, you're not going to get anything but a middle finger or being ignored if your request cannot be heard.

English, while never a requirement is the language of success in this country. We must help people to learn it. Conservatives in many places who are also bent on this issue (not all Conservatives are, btw) feel that by legislating an official language we can "make it so". I'm for less legislation myself. Let it ride.

Scott said...

Thanks for the comments, everyone. And sorry for bashing NASCAR en masse. I got away from myself a bit :)