A comment on English-only

Max Markham, a recent Stanford graduate with some impressive international experience, even at his young age, has written an article which appeared on the blog policymic and presents some of the compelling arguments against having English-only legislation passed in the U.S., whether on the state or national level. It was written five months ago, and refers to Jon Huntsman as the only presidential candidate who speaks a language other than English fluently (Chinese), and Huntsman is no longer a candidate, but the points made in the article remain true. (I believe that Romney speaks pretty good French, but perhaps he was excluded because he isn’t fluent.)

One factoid teachers can use to introduce this subject is that, counting immigrant enclaves, there are around 337 languages spoken or signed in the U.S.  One hundred seventy-six are indigenous, such as Athabaskan, Chinookan, Iroquoian, Uto-Aztecan, and  many more. Fifty-two are now extinct, with others falling into extinction as native speakers die out. Some of these are Delaware, Jersey Dutch, Iowa-Oto, Narragansett, Shinnecock, Wyandot, and many more.

My favorite historical anecdotes on this subject concern the debate which occurred in Revolutionary War times. There were a number of Americans who objected to adopting the language of their enemies, the British, though most people in the fledgling U.S. spoke English. Some wanted the official language to be either Hebrew, French, or Greek (the languages of God, rationality, and democracy), and some suggested Latin, which was universally taught in upper class schools. There were so many German speakers at that time that a bill was introduced to print official documents in German.  It failed.

Exercise:  As with other language policy-related issues that have been discussed on this blog in the past, have students find out what the language policy of their state, town, or school is, and hold a class discussion of the findings, which includes a pro- and con- dialogue about declaring an official state or national language.

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