Wednesday, February 21, 2024

Country should dictate its own language policy

Prior to the Republican National Convention this year, party officials removed from the GOP platform a statement promoting English as the official language of the United States. That action confounded me. If English is not the official language of the United States, then which language should be chosen instead?

Regardless of a lack of specific law recognizing English as the official language, it is the language of the country nonetheless. Congress, the high courts and all other federal courts conduct their affairs exclusively in English. Additionally, all 42 of the country’s presidents have addressed the citizens of the United States at large throughout history solely in English. Most national television and radio broadcasting networks air programming in English. Most of the widely recognized and read American newspapers and journals are published in English. No other language can rightfully claim an equally prominent and pervasive status throughout the United States.

The Republican Party decided to drop the push for the declaration of English as the country’s official language in a politically calculated move. The decision supposedly will appeal to opponents of English as the legally recognized official language. Republican officials hope to appease those opponents out of the fear of losing votes in November. Such a ridiculous move is akin to retracting a formal statement that the Earth revolves around the sun out of fear of upsetting adherents to geocentricism.

Immigrants in the United States for more than 200 years have learned English. Those who refused to do so were forced to accept low-paying, menial jobs, if they could find employment at all. Knowledge of English has always been key to rise from poverty and isolation and to lead to the plethora of opportunities in this country.

In recent decades, foreign militants have demanded that American society cater to new arrivals by addressing them in their native tongues. Groveling politicians have gutlessly conceded to those militants by pushing through counterproductive and wasteful programs. Immigrant children complete their classes in their parents’ native languages instead of being immersed in English; thus, many of those children are deprived of the formal instruction of English that they will need to survive and prosper in this country. Governmental agencies produce documents and other materials in foreign languages for people who have been residing in the United States for years, even decades. Such programs have accomplished nothing except for encouraging the stubbornness or laziness of those who refuse to learn English.

Efforts to prevent the recognition of the obvious fact that English is the official language reek of linguistic balkanization. Politicians and activists who oppose such recognition are sowing the seeds of divisiveness. They create and maintain positions of political power by isolating non-English speakers from the American mainstream. Non-English speakers are limited to only receiving information that is usually filtered by those same activists. The activists stir up fears and prejudices toward the rest of American society, thereby convincing those they have isolated that no “outsiders” can understand their needs. Therefore, the non-English speakers believe they have no other alternative but to vote for the politicians who keep them in a perpetual state of dependency.

Similar tactics of fomenting and exploiting societal divisions have been employed by militants in the former Yugoslavian territories and numerous African countries - all have resulted in destructive and tragic outcomes.

My own experience in Belgium seven years ago showed me how the lack of a common national language impedes, and even threatens, national unity. Belgium is a nation in which approximately two-thirds of the people speak a dialect of Dutch, in contrast to the other third of the people who speak German. I, like everyone else, was compelled to ask strangers which language they spoke before asking anything else. By not inquiring beforehand, I risked nasty remarks - usually in a loud and hostile manner or more problematic reactions - if I addressed a stranger in a language differing from his or her own. The expense of forced multilingualism drives up the costs of businesses trying to ensure that their products and services area available in all three languages. I truly felt that I had traveled in two different countries, anti-pathetic toward each other, after I had ventured into the Flemish regions from temporary residence in a Walloon city.

Every American should be aware of the ongoing linguistic separatist movement growing in Canada. Members of the French-speaking minority demand more and more autonomy for Quebec from the Canadian government. Those demands are leading to the total independence of Quebec and the fracturing of Canada. All those problems stem from the compulsory bilingualism that exacerbates national disunity.

I am not opposed to people living in the United States, whether citizens or not, speaking other languages besides English. I whole-heartedly support people’s efforts to retain their ancestral languages or learn new languages. I speak French and have studied Russian. My father’s family spoke French at home. However, I firmly support my paternal relatives’ insistence that they and their children learn English in all means of communication in school and not expect American society to address them in some other language in any situation.

The United States absolutely needs one and only one official language. English has been the language of the mainstream. Therefore, every American must be expected to know the language fluently with no one exempted from that standard.

The American people are composed of various races, ethnicity, religious affiliations and political ideologies. Without a common language to bind them together, the United States will inevitably devolve into a bickering and chaotic Tower of Babel.

John La Fleur, State News community columnist, can be reached at johnclafleur@mailcity.com.

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