Posts Tagged ‘language law’
Last March a Polk County judge in Iowa ruled that the State government was violating it’s own laws by providing websites and voter registration forms in a variety of languages, including Spanish and Vietnamese. Iowa, you see, made English it’s sole official language in 2002. It is one of 30 states that have enacted some form of legislation making English their official language.
At the federal level the United States do not have an official language. English is de facto the language of administration, but there is no official language act that says has to be that way. Legislation to that effect has been introduced many times in the Congress, as recently as 2006, but as of yet none has successfully survived the Washington legislative process.
A the frontline of the Official English movement is the US English organization founded in 1983.
The current president of US English is Mauro E. Mujica, a naturalized US citizen born in Chile who speaks fluent English, Spanish and French.
He kindly accepted to answer a few AngryFrenchQuestions:
1.Can you tell me how someone with your background, Spanish-speaking, born outside the United States, came to the conclusion that the US needed to make the English language official?
When I came as an immigrant to an English speaking country, I knew that I had to learn the language of the country I was going to in order to be successful. In fact, when I first came here, I assumed that English was already the official language of the United States.
In addition to my experience as an immigrant, I also discovered the importance of a common language during my career as an architect. Many of the projects I worked on involved projects overseas – projects I would be unable to get if I didn’t speak the language of that country, or if we did not have a common language through which to conduct business.
To build a nation, all you need are people. But to build a civically united society, you need the common bond of language.
2.Considering that English is the uncontested global language and that 95% of the children of immigrants to the US are considered fluent, isn’t pro-English legislation just overkill?
The societal expectation is that immigrants to the United States will learn English and become Americans. The discussion of the second generation ignores the fact that a growing number of immigrants are unable to speak English themselves, and that a rather significant gap exists between societal expectation and reality. Census data reveals that for some immigrant groups, less than half of the immigrants living in the United States are considered proficient in the language that will enable them to get better jobs, earn higher incomes and help their children advance to higher education.
The intended audience of promoting English acquisition is the immigrant his/herself, much like the intended audience for message promoting smoking cessation is the smoker him/herself.
Furthermore, when we are talking about fluency in English, a characteristic that the Urban Institute called “the most effective anti-poverty tool for working families” in the United States, 95 percent English acquisition is not an acceptable figure among the second generation. There are some startling facts about English fluency that run counter to the notion of English acquisition. According to the U.S. Census, there were more than two million native born Americans, age five and older, who spoke little or no English. That’s two million people born in this country, presumably raised and educated in this country, who speak English at the lowest levels of proficiency.
Finally, 95 percent is simply not a good enough figure to sit back and rest. We should be no more proud of a 95 percent English acquisition rate for the children of immigrants, than we would be about a 95 percent graduation rate or a statistic showing that 95 percent of the children of drug abusers don’t abuse drugs. In any of those cases, there is still a significant portion of the population that will be unable to reach its highest potential, and will be more likely to require government services.
3.I’m sure you have studied official language models worldwide. What countries, according to you, have the best approaches?
I have long been impressed by the Israeli adoption of Hebrew as the official language of the country, and the steps the nation takes to ensure that new residents are able to read, write and converse in this language.
4.How do you feel about Québec’s language legislation? How about the Canadian government’s bilingual approach?
As a citizen of the United States, I don’t have an opinion on the Canadian government language policy as it pertains to Canada. The linguistic and ethnic composition of Canada is unique and quite different from that of the United States.
On an academic level, however, I feel that understanding language policy in Canada offers lessons in how and how not to formulate a language policy here in the U.S. The experience in Canada offers examples of how language differences can result in social discord, increased expenditures, and pit one side against the other in an us vs. them mentality. I believe the Canadian policy shows several potential pitfalls the United States may endure should it opt to go officially or quasi-officially multilingual.
5.Québec’s language legislation went beyond the government and imposed some obligations to private businesses such as the language of commercial signs, the right to work in French and the right to be served in French. Would such measures be necessary in the US? Would they be possible?
The official English legislation proposed in U.S. Congress would not affect the rights of private businesses or business owners. Our legislation is exclusively focused on the language of government and government documents. Official English legislation has never been about preserving the language or the proper use of the language. Instead it is rooted upon the belief that English, however accented or pronounced, is the unifying factor in this diverse nation.
6. US English has been accused to be a polite and clean facade for anti-Mexican and anti-immigration sentiment. How do you feel about those accusations?
It is unfortunate that some individuals choose to stymie debate on the official language issue by mischaracterizing its supporters. In reality, many supporters of official English are immigrants or children of immigrants. In polls, first- and second-generation Americans demonstrate the same level of support for official English as do Americans of the third-generation and beyond. Furthermore, labeling the more than 80 percent of the nation that supports English as “xenophobic” is an extremely pessimistic view of the United States population.
A vast majority of Irish people support the adoption of legislation to protect the rights of Irish speakers in Northern Ireland.
Sixty-eight percent of some 11, 000 responders to a consultation by Northern Ireland’s government published last October responded favorably to a draft of the proposed Irish Language Act.
The proposed Irish law would use a rights-based approach. That is the same philosophy behind Québec’s language law.
Among the proposed modalities of the law is the creation of a Language commissioner who would have the power to “investigate complaints, and if necessary initiate a review, where there is failure to act on the rights of Irish speakers under the Act or any other enactment that deals with the use or status of the Irish language.”
The law would also stipulate that “Private individuals must have the right to make complaints and have court remedy if necessary.”
In 2005 the Republic of Ireland removed the legal status the English-language name of 2,000 towns, villages and roads in the Gaeltacht region of western Ireland and made the Gaelic version the only one that could be used by governement and public bodies.
Happy St-Patrick’s Day!
Québec’s language laws limit access to English schools for most citizens of the province. That is true.
Yet, if any other Canadian provinces or American state wanted to offer it’s linguistic minorities access to the kind of education network Québec finances for it’s Anglophone minority, every single one of them would have to increase dramatically the number of minority schools it finances.
For example, if American states were expected to give their Spanish-speaking minority the same education rights that Québec gives to it’s English-speaking minority, then New Mexico, California, Texas, Arizona, Nevada, Colorado, Florida, New York, New Jersey, Illinois, Connecticut, Utah, Rhode Island, Oregon, Idaho, Washington, Kansas – all states that have more Spanish-speakers than Québec has English-speakers – would have to create a second publicly funded Spanish-language schools system.
Although all Canadian provinces have some minority education rights and schools, no other provincial minority has the vast network of schools, colleges and universities that English-speakers in Montreal and Quebec have access to. There are in Québec about 367 English public schools, 3 English public colleges called CEGEPs and 3 English universities.
In fact, if you use that standard definition of a major university as one that has both a law school and a medical school – New Brunswick’s Université de Moncton, the only autonomous French-language university outside Québec, does not have the latter – then Québec is the only state or province to fund a complete education system for it’s linguistic minority.
That’s if you accept the premise that English-speaking North Americans can be considered a minority at all…
In the 1970’s Francophones in Montreal became increasingly alarmed to see the vast majority of new immigrants to Québec sending their children to English Schools. That situation, combined with the demographic decline of Francophones in Canada and the availability of an extensive and totally free network of English schools in Québec meant that within one generation French-speakers could become a minority in Montreal.
Québec’s Francophones, representing over 80% of the population of Québec but barely 5% of North Americans were put in the position were they had to assist their neighbors in anglicizing immigrants.
Not only were Francophones being assimilated, but they were paying for it.
In 1977 the Québec government adopted the French Language Charter, known as bill 101, which made French the mandatory language of primary and secondary education. From that moment on, all residents of Québec – except the Anglophone minority – had to send their children in French schools from 1st grade through the end of High School.
Many people in Québec’s Anglophone community and in the rest of Canada were angered by this apparent limit to their freedom to choose their children’s language of instruction. Few noted that Québec was the only place on the continent where an actual school network made that choice possible at all.
In any case, the right of English-speaking Quebecers to a “separate but equal” public English-language school network was constitutionally protected. Parents who have been to English schools anywhere in Canada have the privilege to send their children to either school network in Québec.
It is only Francophones and new immigrants – those who make the informed decision of living in the French-speaking part of Canada – who are limited to French Schools.
In 1972, before the adoption of the Charter, only 10% of immigrants to Québec sent their children to French schools. Since the adoption of bill 101 the situation has reversed. Parents who send their kids to private schools can still send them to English schools as long as the school does not receive government funding.
Freedom of choice remains total when it come to higher education and students can study in English at college-level CEGEPs or in one of Québec’s three English-language universities.
In the decades since the law was adopted, some wealthy families figured out they could send their eldest child to an unsubsidized school – one that usually cost over 10 000$ a year – and then switch all of their children to the English public system the next year.
The National Assembly of Québec unanimously adopted law 104 to put an end to the loophole. The Québec court of appeals struck down the law in 2007 and the matter is now headed for the Supreme Court.
Click here for information of the Charter of the French Language’s sign law.
Montreal Anglo stand-up comic Sugar Sammy was on the radio last week promoting le Show Raisonable, a comedy event showcassing funny guys from Québec’s minority communities.
Sugar tried out one of his jokes on the air. “You know, there’s two types of Québécois, there’s the 50% that are educated, cultivated people, then there’s the 50% that voted Yes in the referendum.”
If I had had the opportunity to go onstage after him, this would have been my comeback: “You know, there’s two types on anglophones in Québec. There’s the educated and cultivated anglophones, those with an open mind, a passion for ideas and a love of democracy. Then there’s the 99, 9% of those who voted No in the referendum.”
Sugar described himself as an anglophone although as the son of immigrants from outside Canada he is one of the so-called Children of bill 101 ‘forced’ to go to french school. If they had had the choice his parents would have sent him to english school, he said.
I can only admire Sugar’s participation in a french-language show. Allthough Montreal is filled with many perfectly billingual people like him, we almost never see artists, and even less comedians, with the talent or balls to cross over to the other solitude. More power to him.
I happen to find comedy based on truths funnier than jokes based on prejudice. Sugar might be interested to know that support for Québec independence rises with scholarity and that the first PQ cabinet had more PhD’s than any other cabinet in Canadian history.
I suppose you have to excuse Sugar for not knowing that, after all, he didn’t have the smartest parents. They wanted to raise their son in English and chose to live in the Only city in North America that was not English-Speaking.
In all fairness, I’m the first to admit the CBC’s ‘revelations’ about a Facebook account with pictures of recent garduates from the Canada Customs training school drinking in uniform and posting about ‘Frogs’ and ‘French Bastards’ is not actually newsworthy. But I must say, as someone who frequently has to deal with these fine officers of government, I’m quite happy that someone will be taking a closer look at what’s going on in the offices of the protectors of the longest pretend border on earth.
My job takes me to the United States weekly. I usually cross over at the 1000 Islands or at the Ambassador Bridge between Windsor and Detroit. Coming back to Canada I always make it a point to cross at one of the booths with the friendly Français/English sign.
Here’s how bilingualism really works, Tim Horton: 9 times out of 10 the customs officer does not speak a word of French. 6 times out of 10 we have to do it Montreal-style, with me speaking French and him or her English. 2 times out of 10 the officer looks at me like I’m retarded and asks if I’m sure I don’t speak english. Only about 1 in ten times do they actually respect my right to communicate with my government in the language of my choice by getting the token french guy on duty.
As a matter of fact, in the last year, only three customs officers outside Québec have been able to speak to me in french, and one of them was an American Homeland Security officer.
It seems that Canadians have got the impression that because the federal government and some provincial governments put up bilingual signs, bilingualism thriving in this country. As far as they’re concerned the French are doing great: there’s French on road signs in Ontario, cereal boxes and TV. Bilingualism: done. Remember, these are the people who will buy anything red with the word CANADA on it: beer, sweatshirts and corrupt political parties. Perfect consumers who just want the brand and really don’t want to know it’s made in Honduras and that the profits go back to Chicago. With bilingual signs Canada looks bilingual, that’s what it said on the label and that’s all that counts.
Try to imagine how proudly Canadian you would feel if coming back from a business trip the customs officer of your own country would greet you with “Ch’parle pas anglais! Parle donc français!”