Saturday, March 21, 2015

English, Please!

Although I consider myself progressive/liberal in many areas, when it comes to language and culture, I suppose I side with the conservative view. It has nothing to do with opposing immigration to the U.S. to say, in this country, we need English as our lingua franca, our common tongue, since it is a major means of making "one from many" (e pluribus unum).  The community, the common good, becomes paramount when we leave out homes, and the society as a community is enabled by a shared language.

I know that, here in Florida, and elsewhere, Spanish speakers may think I am opposed to their use of their language; I am not. In many ways, having a bi-lingual culture is a great advantage, especially for children growing up with both languages.  I have no objection to hearing Spanish spoken around me in stores.

But I do believe that anyone who comes to this country to live should make the effort to learn English, which is the predominant language of our law and culture. I could not imagine living in France and refusing to learn French. If I were a resident of Paris, I would never give up my use of English with friends and family, but I would know that, to function in French, society, I need to know the language. I would not expect to vote in a French election with an English ballot. Or be given an Arabic ballot.

I say all this because, recently in New York state, a school celebrate National Foreign Language Week by having students recite the Pledge of Allegiance (to the flag and to the nation for which it stands) in various languages, including Arabic.  A better method of inculcating kids' awareness of other languages would have been to say something simple and anodyne--such as "good morning"--in Arabic and the other languages.

The U.S. media seized, of course, on the Arabic Pledge of Allegiance as a potentially treasonable offense; in fact, it was an unfortunate academic exercise. But it was a reminder for me that, for many legally and historically-based customs, including reciting the Pledge of Allegiance, only English will do.

My parental grandparents, immigrants from Germany, spoke some German to their children in St. Louis, a heavily German city, where at the turn of the last century, some churches and local newspapers were published in German. But the children knew that the expected language of public discourse, outside the family, was English. I could not imagine anyone in St. Louis, circa 1917, reciting the pledge of allegiance in German, given the anti-German sentiment of the time.

Today's culture is different; the patterns of assimilation over the past fifty years have taken a different turn. To find an employee in a public place who speaks only Spanish or Portuguese or whatever is objectionable; he or she should be bi-lingual, able to function in a society where the majority of people have always written and spoken in the English language, which is the de facto official language of the United States and a source of what unity we have amid all our rich diversity.

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