AngryFrenchGuy

Posts Tagged ‘us english

English as an Official Language (in the USA)

with 15 comments

Mauro E. Mujica

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.


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Written by angryfrenchguy

June 15, 2008 at 11:30 am