Language LAWS

When Michele Bachman, a Republican running for the presidential nomination, said during the last debate, just this past week, that she demands that English be the national language of the US, I was taken aback a little.Really, it wasn’t already? I had up to then assumed English was the national language of the country. Everyone speaks and, whoever can, writes English. And haven’t they changed the way the language is both spoken and written?

And they never felt the need to make it the national language?

I should have guessed. Every time you dial a public service number – both private and public — in the US, the first response from the automated answering service is an option to continue in English or switch to Spanish, every time.

A bit like it is in India: Press 1 or 2 to continue in English or Hindi (of Hindi’s local alternatives)?

I should have expected, but as in the oldest of all jokes in the world about the Indian who went to England and wrote home in utter shock and that everyone there spoke English – he thought that the ultimate sign of progress.

I hate to admit but my assumptions about English in the US were similar.

But jokes apart, that’s one of the little known facts about the US: that English is still struggling to find that ultimate recognition. Many of the states do recognize English as the official language, but the national tag has eluded it thus far.

So I decided to educate myself, consciously avoiding Wikipedia. And here is what I discovered. That every US congress has tried to make English the national language but failed for one reason or the other.

And that there is a group advocating English-only laws arguing it is cost effective – saves money spent on multi-lingual signs and translations; and will encourage non-English speaking citizens to learn the language.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) opposes it saying an English-only law would unfairly workers who don’t speak the language, mostly recent immigrants. “These hardworking employees should not be fired just because they are speaking a language other than English, so long as they are competently executing their job duties,” said an ACLU backgrounder.

I expect to dig more into this and will keep you posted, if you are interested. Posted by Yashwant Raj on Sunday, October 23, 2011 in THT

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