Legislating an Official Language

I normally don’t get involved in controversial subjects, but this is one topic I would like some feedback on. Recently, the English Language Unity Act of 2011 was introduced into the US Congress.

During my life, I have been fortunate to live and work with people from different cultural and language backgrounds, and I feel they have enriched my life. I’ve also traveled and been exposed to languages other than English. Before taking a trip, I learn some “polite” words in the language of the area I will visit and do not expect others to speak English fluently. Although I am only fluent in English, I know words in a number of languages because I enjoy learning about languages and cultures.

Perhaps I am looking at this wrong, but I feel having one official language can lead to cultural isolation and misunderstanding. Isn’t it better to know a number of languages so that you can understand the language and culture of those who do not share your background?

Thank you for sharing your thoughts on this.

This legislation is not about language learning, but about language politics. Language politics have always been very heated because they have to do with identity and the cultural survival of groups, both minority ethnic groups and the dominant ethnic groups.

In Canada, in the province of Quebec, where 20% of the population is English speaking, there is only one official language,French. In Ontario, where something like 6% of the population speaks French, there is only one official language. I would say that it would be impossible to change that for political reasons. That does not prevent these provinces from offering government services, schools and considerable official documentation in the other language. Canada is officially bilingual since 23% of the population speaks French, and this ensures services for the linguistic minorities in those provinces. No immigrant group enjoys language rights.

I think the English Language Unity Act in the US is a statement of the will of many people, including from what I can see, members of certain minority groups, to ensure that the dominant English speaking culture in the US maintains that position, and that immigrants be encouraged to integrate into that English speaking community, that the status of English will remain paramount. It would make it more difficult for other language groups to demand services in their languages as a right, although I am sure the Federal and state governments would do so anyway.

This is an issue for Americans to decide. If I were American I would vote in favour of such legislation.

Steve, thank you for such an understandable explanation. It is good to get feedback from someone who lives in another country.

I don’t always understand politics and how the political system works so I try to do some research before making decisions.

Well I admittedly do not know much about language politics. Thankfully I’m not allowed to vote.

But from the station of observer of the American people, most people also do not know anything about American politics.

Something like this will serve as yet another argument for why certain minority groups should be cast out into the dirt. In my city, if “Bosnian” (not necessarily always actually Bosnian) people do not speak perfect, native-like English somehow, they are reminded that this is America and they should learn their English better before daring to offend the public. God forbid they speak their native language among themselves.
I think it is the same with Mexican people in other parts of the US.

To me it seems like it’s fine now how it idealistically is. English is used in official communication, which is not in danger of changing even without this legislation, and you can use whatever language you manage to communicate with outside of that.

But like I said, I’m sure there’s some fancy political justification for these types of things.

Well actually some people use the justification that English is the official language despite the fact that it’s not, so I guess it wouldn’t really matter too much in that way.

The official status of a language has little to do with how people interact with each other. In Vancouver banks and stores offer services in lots of languages. Official status is about entitlement, and a whole industry will grow up around it. Just a couple of quick examples from Canada but you could write books about language wrangling in Canada as a result of the official status of two languages. I support the two official languages since this reflects the historical duality of our country. I would not recommend making immigrant languages official.

A Regina judge has thrown out a speeding ticket against a Saskatchewan francophone who was arrested after being refused service from the RCMP in French.

Justin Bell was charged with speeding in March 2006 after driving through Redvers, 287 kilometres southeast of Regina.

Court heard that Bell insisted the officer speak to him in French. However, the officer couldn’t speak French and arrested him.

On Thursday, Judge Albert Lavoie stayed the charge.

“Mr. Bell’s rights were violated,” defence lawyer Rupert Baudais said outside court.

EDMONTON - The country’s top court has decided Alberta must cover about $120,000 in legal costs for an Edmonton francophone truck driver who challenged a $54 traffic ticket that was not written in both of Canada’s official languages.

I’m suggesting making no language official as it is now, not two or every immigrant language.

It is established that English is official in the sense that it is the language of operation for the three branches.

Here if an immigrant received a parking ticket in English but could not understand it, I think they would be expected utilize the many translation services in those communities or ask a neighbor. If they tried to sue, I think it would be thrown out of court.

Maybe though it would become a big issue and the supreme court would choose to take it on.

Now though it seems unnecessary, counterproductive, and (I hate this word) un-American.