Should English Be the Official US Language?


Recently I answered a poll on Facebook as to whether I felt the United States should have English as its official language. I voted “yes”. Now I can see how this would make me appear bigoted, but I assure you that my thoughts have nothing to do with hatred or intolerance. I simply have an opinion to express, so I plead not guilty to being a bigot.

A friend of mine offered a comment to my poll answer…and I agree with him in a Sci-Fi futuristic sort of way. This is what he said:

The problem with legislating things is that it’s a double edged sword.

Once made “official” how long before some smart bureaucrat figures out that outright criminalization of speaking Spanish, Russian, Vietnamese or Swahili, would be another revenue stream to the public coffers, or that taxing language classes would be a good thing, or that installing language monitors in citizens homes is permissible?”

By referring to the public coffers, I’m assuming that he meant people could be fined for not speaking English. I’m not certain what he means by taxing language classes…and I suppose at some future time the United States could possibly set aside enough money to buy monitors for every home in a Big Brother sort of way, but that wouldn’t be even possible until we stop spending the trillions on the military industrial complex that we have spent since the Revolutionary War and stopped corporate welfare…but I digress.

I found a site selection on countries which curiously, by the way, does not list the United States. Every one of them lists an official language for the country. This includes China who, despite having a myriad of local dialects, has as an official language is Mandarin Chinese.

Unofficially, there are large economic, social and practical incentives to be functional in Putonghua, a standardised form of the Mandarin group of dialects spoken in northern and southwestern China, which serves as a lingua franca among the different groups within mainland China. In addition, it is also considered increasingly prestigious and useful to have some ability in English, which is a required subject for persons attending university. China has the largest growing population of English speakers in the world.

When my paternal grandparents came to the United States, they could only speak German. That was the language my father spoke until he entered the first grade back in 1912. He and his brothers and sisters learned English and came home to teach their parents. Since they both died before I was born, I do not know how much my grandparents actually learned. The point is, they DID desire to learn it. They made certain that their children learned it also. It was America, and in America one learned English.

Did that stop them from speaking German? Not at all. I still remember vividly conversations that immediately switched to German when the adults wished to discuss topics not deemed “appropriate” for their children’s ears. Only one aunt taught her daughter to speak German which she still uses when necessary today. The rest of the family made no attempts to teach their children German.

There are countries like Switzerland who have three official languages…German 64%, French 20% , and Italian 6%. Switzerland is divided into three distinct regions and has been for centuries. It is prudent that each region continue to use their own language.

The United States, so far, is not divided into different ethnic group regions yet. There are communities in almost every state that are cohesive in their ethnic make up, customs, and languages. There always have been. The various “China towns” are examples. When one goes to China town, one can expect to hear some Chinese spoken some time during the trip. You can bet, however, that every shopkeeper can either speak, or has a clerk who speaks, English.

I have seen my adopted home town school system change from 84% white (non-Hispanic), 12% black (non-Hispanic), 4% other in 1984 to 43% white, 18% black, and 34% Hispanic(all races). You will notice that other communities such as Asian, and Native American are no longer even listed as being statistically significant.

The growth of the Hispanic population is my concern. I have no problems with Hispanics living in the community where I have chosen to reside for thirty years. In my little neighborhood there are only fifty houses. When I moved here in 1976 the entire neighborhood was white. Now there are three African American families and at least six Hispanic families which is more closely mirroring the entire city population every year.

Every one speaks English in public with their neighbors. What they speak within their homes is their concern. A fellow teacher friend of mine was talking about growing up in her neighborhood. Everyone made a special attempt to speak English instead of Spanish in the shops. Now, she states, she goes into the same stores and she is looked down upon if she doesn’t speak Spanish. She is made to feel inferior for conversing in English. The attitude of attempting to learn English is changing. My neighbor confirmed the same thing when I asked her about it. Many people in the Hispanic community no longer feel the need to learn the language. They are a large enough community so that they can live comfortably without learning English. It is now required that every public school teacher in the district directly south of me must be ESL certified. That would be great if every student were eager to learn and speak English.

As the Hispanic community enlarges, the desire to learn in English appears to be diminishing among a growing section of Hispanic youth. I now drive through concentrated Hispanic communities and I can no longer read the billboards. It would not bother me if the billboards were written in both English and Spanish, but that attempt is not even made. Children, in the classrooms, openly and defiantly, often, speak Spanish in front of the teachers when they wish to make comments they do not wish the whole class or the teacher to understand. They feel more comfortable speaking Spanish.

In the ’50s, America was presented as a “melting pot” of common American traits. That, of course, has never actually been the case. It has more often appeared as a salad bowlwith communities throughout the US maintaining the cultural identity of other homelands. But the desire to learn English has always been seen until relatively recently as the way to “get ahead” in America.

Cultures are based on many criteria. One of which is a common language. When someone coming to America no longer feels it is necessary to learn how to communicate in a common language to me that is the sign of division occurring rather than cooperation. Quebec, in recent years, wishing to form its own sovereign country, is an example. The language of Quebec is French. It didn’t happen but the main desire for secession was the cultural difference of English v. French.

Even though America has always been the home of many different cultural groups, English has always been thought of as the common language. Yes, there was a time when only English was allowed in a community school and children were punished for speaking their family’s language, but I think we have advanced beyond that. I do not feel punishment is the answer, but I do feel that learning and using English in the public schools should be of primary concern…officially.

Although I cannot find the exact quote, James A. Mitchner purportedly said that “Texas will once again become part of Mexico without firing a shot.” The same could be true of California, Arizona, and New Mexico. I do not wish to see that happen. Texas has enough problems being part of the US let alone being under the Mexican government. We already had one disasterous war over cultural differences. I do not wish to see this great nation go through another. That is why officially I think that we should have one language, and that one language should be English. I’m off my soap box. Namaste. Attic Annie



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3 responses to “Should English Be the Official US Language?

  1. Pingback: Should English Be the Official US Language? « Atticannie's Blog

  2. atticannie

    Hello Sam, thanks for dropping by for a chat…always glad to meet a new debater. Correct me if I am wrong, but I believe your examples of previous attempts to legislate prohibition, drug and on line useage all have to do with laws legislating behavior. I do not believe your examples are germane to this topic. I do not believe now, nor have I ever that it is possible to control other’s behavior in a democracy.
    I am talking about basic communication and language…one of the essential commonalities that bind a nation together.
    I realize this has been an issue since John Adams first attempted to establish an official academy devoted to English in 1780. It was deemed undemocratic.
    At that time there were many fewer immigrants and in time they all assimilated into an American society that spoke English.

    I do not see that much difference between the term vernacular which means “the standard native language” and the term lingua franca which means
    “any language used as a medium of communication between peoples of diverse speech. Somewhat incongruously, English has become the lingua franca of Asia, although in some cases, many Americans might not recognize some of the words or expression” used.
    except for this: do we no longer need a medium of communication between peoples of diverse speech? I do not believe that standard = official either.
    People have been assimiliating and learning English (or choosing not to learn it) in this country for close to 250 years. Those that chose not to learn it were limited to their own small community.
    The case I am debating today is the number of Hispanic speaking immigrants who have absolutely FLOODED our country. As previously stated, because of their numbers, they no longer feel the necessity to learn English. In an effort to celebrate diversity, we are bending over backwards to accomodate them.
    Why learn English when there are numerous television and radio channels to listen to…not like any other ethnic minority. We do not have a proliferation of other languages on our airways to accomodate any of the other migrants to our shores.
    My neighbor says when she was growing up she had no choice but to learn English because that was the language of her schooling. Now kids are in bi-lingual classes and feel no need to learn English. Bi-lingual translates into Spanish speaking 99% of the time.
    Are you aware that the Texas border town of El Cenizo has voted to make Spanish its OFFICIAL language? Or that in Miami it is getting more and more difficult for English speakers to get jobs?
    I am rusty on my Texas history and may be wrong on this point, but I believe that Americans moving into Texas had to agree to speak Spanish and convert to the Catholic faith. When there were enough English speaking “Texians” they simply revolted. A common language binds us together. I see us splitting apart. There is already a common term of Mexifornia. Is that the fate of the rest of the south and southwest? I suppose I could learn a little Spanish before I die but that doesn’t solve the problems of all the other non-English, non-Spanish immigrants that are coming to our shores. I still say we need a common language to keep us bound together. There have been movements to make Spanish an OFFICIAL language of the United States before we even make Enlish an official language. I submit that that is not the way America should go.

  3. Sam

    Here’s an amplification of unintended consequences when we start legislatively mandating behavior, as we did in the last century.

    Let’s not repeat our mistakes in this one, eh? ‘^)