Language in America - English as the Official Language


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English As The Official Language
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English is the language of freedom, commerce and opportunity around the world. Declaring English the official language of the United States will provide legal protection against ill-advised government actions which harm or ignore English. On Aug. 1, 1996, the House of Representatives voted 259-169 to declare English the official language of the United States; the Senate never acted on the bill. Source: Cong. Rec. Aug. 1, 1996, H9771-72.

English Around the World:

1.9 billion people worldwide, one-third of humanity, speak English. Source: Center for Immigration Studies, "Backgrounder: Are Immigration Preferences for English-speakers Racist?" April 1996, P. 1. English is the official language of many countries, including India and several populous countries in Africa. People in those countries speak many languages, but use English to conduct common and official business. Source: Blaustein and Epstein, "Resolving Language Conflicts: A Study of the World’s Constitutions," 1986.

English In America:

More than 300 languages are spoken in the United States. Source: U.S. Bureau of the Census, 1990 Table: "Language Spoken At Home and Ability to Speak English for Persons 5 Years and Over." English is one of the few common bonds between Americans of all backgrounds. Although 14 percent of Americans speak a language other than English at home, 98% of Americans speak English "very well" or "well." Source: "Demographics," National Journal, May 1, 1993, P. 1058.

Immigrants believe overwhelmingly both in learning English, Source: "U.S. Hispanics Say, Call Us ‘Americans’," Time, December 28, 1992, P. 18., and in English as the official language. Source: Frank Viviano, "Poll Contradicts Stereotypes," San Francisco Chronicle, March 28, 1990, P. A1.

The Need for Official English:

Government, willfully or ignorantly, is the principal threat to the continued success of English. Columnist Linda Chavez wrote: "Failed policies such as bilingual education and multicultural curricula are not being demanded by Mexican laborers or Chinese waiters. Instead they are being rammed down immigrants’ throats by federal, state and local governments, at the behest of native-born political activists and bureaucrats." Source: Linda Chavez & John Miller, "The Immigration Myth," Reader’s Digest, May, 1996, 73.

Making English the official language will stop government itself from harming or ignoring English.

In most cases, declaring English the official language of government will have little day-to-day effect on individuals. As the late U.S. Senator S.I. Hayakawa, founder of the modern official English effort, said, "In no way would having English as the official language intrude upon anyone’s private life, business or day-to-day living. Official English applies only to the conduct of government business." Source: Hayakawa, "Common Language, Common Sense," The New York Times, February 21, 1990, A25.

The effect of declaring English the official language will be in what government cannot do. Official English is intended to stop the costly and unworkable trend toward official multilingualism – the practice of having government operate in many languages. Declaring English the official language means that governments could no longer ignore the effect of their actions on English.

In addition, government would no longer be able to force private individuals to use languages other than English in their private activities. Government documents would have to be written in English. Government would have to respond to an English-speaking person in English.

There will be exceptions. Government can require students to learn foreign languages. Bilingual education will continue, but with a new focus on teaching English as quickly as possible. The justice system will continue to provide language assistance to criminal defendants and victims of crime, and the "911" emergency system will remain accessible to all. Government employees will continue to provide informal assistance and directions in any language they feel appropriate.

Government Programs Do Not "Help:"

These new restrictions on government are needed because government language "assistance" programs often have unintended consequences. Sometimes government’s intentions in providing language "assistance" are benign, as in teaching English to immigrants and children, and protecting public safety or health by providing translators or services in languages other than English. Other times government promotes a particular special interest, like multiculturalism or the preservation of other languages.

However intentioned, government actions are often either ill-informed or counter-productive. These failures often hurt those they are intended to help.

For example, as U.S. News & World Report noted: "[bilingual education] was born of good intentions, but today it has mushroomed into a $10,000,000,000-a-year bureaucracy that not only cannot promise that students will learn English but may actually do some children more harm than good." Source: "Tongue-tied in the Schools," U.S. News & World Report, September 25, 1995, 44. The powerful California Teachers’ Association, formerly a strong advocate of bilingual education, now criticizes bilingual education for "crippling the Spanish-speaking child’s educational development." CTA Action, May 1995.

Government Multilingual Programs Are Costly:

The financial burden of language "assistance" by government is enormous. In addition to the $10 billion governments pay annually for bilingual education, governments spend millions to provide translations and other bilingual services. New Jersey alone spent $922,000 in 1992 on court translator fees. Source: Hope Viner Samborn, "Tongue- Tied," ABA Journal, February 1996, 22.

Reaction: Government In English:

In light of these costs and difficulties, 22 states have declared English their official languages. Those states still use other languages when necessary, but their official language – the language in which their governments function – is English.

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