As will be elaborated upon later, when this group started we had a variety of opinions on the topic, some for, some against, some in the middle. We thoroughly researched material to address each of the major sides, as well as on how the matter is handled in other nations.
There are deep feelings not just on language, but on issues such as culture and history. Some ask whether the focus for schoolchildren should be on practical economic or on preservation matters. While English would be useful in a global economy, especially the fields of Math and Science and other areas of academia, there is still the issue of losing one’s culture and history.
While approximately half the world’s nations have official languages, that also means that about half of them do not. Arguments in favor of an established language include that it boosts commonality and a united mindset, as well as social mobility and economic advancement. It can also invite foreigners in with examples of how they can achieve in a new country.
Conversely, those against such a movement view it as a threat to rights, and argue it insults minorities and justified racism and prejudice. America should be open to all those loyal to democratic principles, not a form of speech. There are nearly 340 languages spoken in the U.S., and the Founders saw no need to establish a language both because of an anti-immigrant sentiment and because it was undemocratic. This has happened since colonization, when Europeans forced their own culture upon the indigenous peoples they found. War and migration brought more French into the American fold. President Theodore Roosevelt believed new immigrants should speak English and absorb as much American culture as they could. As shifts occurred that abolished quota systems in favor of keeping families together, this brought far more Spanish-speaking Mexican families into America.
Often the movement has little to do with language since it can be the “proxy for other conditions” such as xenophobia. Further, laws often suddenly change during periods of turmoil, notably the anti-German sentiment during World War I. Presently the English-only cry comes mainly from right wing politicians who do not want to accept that America’s ethnic landscape is changing. It would be fairly impractical to establish such a law, since, while this is a multilingual nation, most people in America speak English anyway.
Now, though, after all of this study and education our group is thoroughly against an official, national English-only policy in America on practical, financial, social and other grounds.
Our brief individual final comments are below:
Before doing the research for this project, I was against making English the official language of the United States. I feel that going that particular route would discourage immigration and immigration access to goods and services and that it would eventually lead to increased discrimination against immigrants. I don’t believe that English only organizations have the best interests of immigrants at the center of their policy changes, but rather I believe that their overall purpose is to force assimilation and to “anglicize” immigrants. Also, eventually English Only laws will eliminate bilingual education, interpretation aids and other services that immigrants rely on. Without these services we not only fail immigrants, but we fail our country as they are an integral component to our community. If organizations truly wish to incorporate immigrants into American mainstream society then other measurements must be worked towards, not simply by making English an official languages and restricting services to non English speakers.
I was already opposed to the establishment of a national language. While I think people living in America should speak English in order to function in larger society, it would be detrimental to make it official or the law. Many natural Americans cannot speak correctly, so their prejudice is invalid. Also, there are studies proving that one’s brain functions in a more versatile way if a person speaks more than one language. It would cost an astronomical amount of money to train teachers, print materials and grade assessments for ESL learners (especially compared to what it would cost to paint & print signs and other documents in two or three languages). Finally, I think it would send a negative message to newcomers that their language (and by extension their entire culture and heritage) are less-valuable in comparison to America’s. Such laws often seem like veiled xenophobia more than anything else, and history has shown that nations will prosper much more in the long run if they assimilate and meld cultures, rather than completely exclude certain ones.
When we began this project, I was aware of the debate that has taken place regarding English as our national language. I hadn’t thought of it in the legal terms that an “official” language entails, nor was I aware of the number of other countries in which language is at the center of debate.
I was intrigued by the ways that declaring an official language and citizenship are intertwined, the ways that citizenship can be defined (or made exclusionary) by language. In our early research, I was struck by the passion of the argument that we should be an “English first” country. I found some of the arguments compelling-that English was spoken by 96% of U.S. residents, that English is the “language of opportunity”, and that if we were to travel to another country, we would consider it correct to learn the language of that country.
As we discussed and researched and shared, however, I came to the conclusion that declaring English as a national, or official, language, would serve only to divide and exclude people. I’ve come to the conclusion that it is a superfluous debate-English is already the national language, the “unofficial” official language. To further the debate is to create divisions where none are necessary.
It has been a fascinating project, and the most important thing I’ll take away from our research and discussions is that language is often at the center of debate around the world, but the true issue rarely has to do with language.
Before I began this inquiry, I fully believed there should be a national language. In fact, I was surprised just a few years ago to find out there was no national language. As I began to research the pros and cons, I couldn’t find any solid evidence that a national language was necessary. There was no benefit, that didn’t take away the rights of the immigrant sector of our society. I did see negatives in the idea. Immigrants would lose some of the support that makes their transition in a new country easier. I also felt that by campaigning for a national language could cause dissention between English speakers and non-native speakers. There also seemed to be many undefined areas especially in the area of education and emergency and health services etc.
Before researching this project, I hadn’t thought very deeply about the idea of having a national language. I only thought about it in terms of having a national language declared in America. Now that I have had some time to think about the topic, I have come to the conclusion that the declaration of a national language is an inherently non-democratic thing to do. Of the countries that I looked at, there was no correlation between national languages and democratic structures in government and society. In fact, some of the most authoritarian societies I came across had several national languages. It seems to me that a country with no declared official or national languages will tend to be more democratic in nature.