Saturday, October 24, 2009

The importance of language

A story caught my eye this morning about the Dallas police ticketing people for not speaking English. It's not against the law not to speak English, of course, so such tickets shouldn't be issued. I think a few officers probably let frustration get the best of them and acted unwisely. The following quotation sparked some thoughts on the subject, however:
"I was surprised and stunned that that would happen, particularly in the city of Dallas," Police Chief David Kunkle said. "In my world, you would never tell someone not to speak Spanish."
That's a silly statement, really. No one would tell anyone not to speak Spanish. In reading discussions on the article, I saw the inevitable charges of racism hurled about and was disgusted by the wholesale acceptance of the media's portrayal of the subject.

When lawful immigrants retain their language and culture, it only adds to the richness and resources of the United States. On top of that, they need to learn English and understand the customs that exist here, simply as a practical measure.

Stop for a moment to think of expectations in countries that don't accept the strange self-loathing liberals seem to think is appropriate in the United States. In France, if you want to do business, especially official business, you'll need to speak French. To expect them to speak your native language would be arrogant. In Mexico, while proximity to the United States means many do speak English, if you want to engage in any official business, it must be in Spanish. Government publications, voting materials and so forth, are all in Spanish.

Are other countries racist, or practical?

Worldwide, there are approximately 7,000 living, spoken human languages. It's a good bet that speakers of most of those languages have come or will come to the United States to resettle. We may not be perfect, but we're still one of the best places to live on Earth.

Is it more reasonable to expect police, firefighters and hospital staffs to be prepared to handle 6,909 human languages, or to expect those who settle here to learn the dominant language? In theory, anyone obtaining citizenship must be proficient in English. Our voting materials, signage and official business should all be printed and handled in English only.

There's another important aspect to having a unifying language. Most readers of this post will have some knowledge of the Balkans, and of the term Balkanization. When people do not have language and at least some culture in common, the result in time is usually civil strife, from minor clashes in the streets to ethnic cleansing and war. The strength of the United States has been the melting pot concept. Note that the materials within that pot don't have to be homogeneous; it's fine for them to retain unique characteristics. Ethnic and language groups can't be insular, though. That way leads to disaster.

Unity and practicality demand a common language in any nation. Even those that do relatively well with more than one language (Canada, Belgium) still suffer disunity and other forms of disunity because of that linguistic divide. If we permit, or worse perpetuate or promulgate insular language communities in the United States, we aren't being understanding or multicultural, we're setting explosive charges under the foundation of our nation.

Special note from the poster: I speak Spanish fluently (although I'm a bit rusty these days), and consider the time I spent in the Latin culture a valuable and enriching part of my personal past. I would never want anyone to give up their cultural or linguistic heritage, but rather encourage others to expand their own experience and enrich themselves by learning English in addition to their native language. English as a unifying language in the United States isn't just a practical necessity, learning it is a way to help lawful immigrants advance and take full advantage of the opportunities available in this great nation.

No comments: