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A modest proposal

Not only should English be declared the official language of the United States, we ought to make the official language English without an accent. That’s how much of an American patriot I am!

(Please check out what “modest proposal” means before flaming me. Thank you.) [Tags: ]

11 Responses to “A modest proposal”

  1. Why don’t we just eat all of the babies of the people who don’t speak English? George W. Bush could make a nice flight suit out of their skins.

  2. You might want to look at where other multi-ethnic, multi-lingual, multi-cultural nations have ended up. It’s not a happy history. In general, they’ve all needed autocratic force to stay in power, and they all eventually crumbled, as the “center” failed to hold. Austria-Hungary (the Hapsburg Empire), The Ottoman Empire, the Roman Empire, the Russian Empire. Some of them lasted a very long time – but their collapse left utter chaos (and in the case of the Ottoman, Austrian, and Russian Empires, we’re still paying for that chaos).

    Why should we walk down a road for which there are no extant happy endings? My grandfather came here with no skills, and no knowledge of English. He managed – today’s immigrants can as well. I favor legal immigration, and don’t much care where they come from. Is it too much to ask that immigrants learn English in order to become full particpants in the life of the nation? Just how well informed can a non-English speaking voter be? Why should we encourage them to stay in a “language ghetto”?

  3. James,

    a) Empires became empires by incorporating other multiple cultures. That doesn’t indicate a causal relationship, however, between that fact and their decline.

    b) Maybe it is causal. Maybe being an empire isn’t tenable.

    c) I don’t want America to be an empire.

    d) I favor immigrants learning English. That’s different than making English the official language, an act for which there are bad potential policy implications: E.g., if English is the official language, is the state required to provide translators for non-English speakers? It’s not clear.

  4. This is a non-issue, except for cultural jingoists and those inclined to frighten themselves by visions of “foreign hordes.”
    Experience shows that in this country at least, people will learn English regardless, even if they surround themselves in an island of “foreign” culture. For example, the Yiddish culture of New York up until the ’50’s, still often living in ghettoized environments, reading Yiddish newspapers and books, listening to Yiddish radio stations, attending the Yiddish theater. They had established a variety of Central European culture on the Atlantic Seaboard, but they were hardly impervious to the America surrounding them, and one day they all moved to the suburbs and vanished from popular ken, even to the extent of no longer serving as viable K.K.K. fright figures.
    Similarly Mexican immigrants, legal and illegal, and reason for the current wave of concern (how dare they carry a foreign flag in an American parade!): studies find that little Spanish survives into the third generation.
    I’m not even sure the historical example of multi-lingual foreign empires shows what English-only supporters think it does. Most of the life of the Ottoman empire was passed during a global era of autocratic force, and though we can count ourselves very lucky not to have been alive then, it is worthy of note that Turkish towns looked very peculiar to foreigners because they lacked the defensive walls that any European burg required, and on occasion the Porte even welcomed foreign refugees, like the Jews expelled from Spain.

  5. You mean you’ll have to learn to talk like me? Excellent [dashes off to set up the Henry Higgins school of elocution].
    Megan made a good point the other day:

    if immigrants don’t learn English, it’s not because they’re ungrateful wretches; it’s because it’s damn hard to learn a new language after sometime around puberty. Making laws ordering them to learn English is thus only slightly more effective than making laws demanding that they become taller. The net result is to discourage people from integrating into society.
    […]. I will not claim that I know for a fact that many of the people demanding that immigrants “learn English, dammit!” are doing so precisely because they themselves have never managed to tack on a second language. But I suspect it is so–and rather unattractive, too, I might add.

  6. Funny and sad that 277 years after Swift wrote “A Modest Proposal” you have to insulate yourself against ignorant flaming by providing a Wikipedia link.

    Mr. Robertson asks, “Just how well informed can a non-English speaking voter be?” What an odd question. It implies that our English-speaking citizenry is well informed. I don’t think that’s true at all. And one doesn’t need to speak or read English to be informed about American politics and culture. I have lots of overseas friends who are quite knowledgeable about American civic life. They read and talk about the issues in their native language, presumably, but they are no less informed because of that.

    Mr. Robertson also asks, “Why should we encourage them to stay in a ‘language ghetto’?” Another curiously phrased question. I think Mr. Robertson is really questioning whether we (English-speakers) should tolerate communities of choice that exclude spoken English. I’m guessing Mr. Robertson would say no. I hope he would think through the implications of such a socially regressive viewpoint.

  7. So you’re gonna make Texans furriners ’cause they don’t tawk right? Bigots! Everybody has to put irrelevant “Rs” in their words like Massachuettsisnootsians? (Which is where the Texan’s “Rs” seem to have gone.) I shudder to think what’ll happen to N’Orleanians (those still extant).

    All the posters but one seem to have ignored the humor in Dave’s post.

    As for the [overly serious] multilingual-down-the-tubes argument, Switzerland seems to have done quite well for itself. Or do they all have guns to protect themselves from the “wrong” language speakers?

  8. “without an accent” cuts off all of Boston ;)

  9. Define “without and accent”.

    A friend of mine who is a radio announcer for BBC Radio 4 once tried to convince me that she didn’t have an accent. I said |just you try going into a bar in the east end of Glasgow and telling them you don’t have an accent.”

  10. “…the humor in Dave’s post.”
    Sorry Charlie, I was aware that David was being satirical, but the whole subject makes me grumpy, particularly those who would prohibit high-school kids from getting any instruction in their native language because (apparently) any American baby can pick up English without a teacher, so why can’t a punk teen-ager?
    Re accents, last week a gentleman on NPR, touting a website that classifies your vocabulary as either Yankee or Southern, said seriously that the reason Westerners have no accent is, that west of the Mississippi the two varieties melded into one. Granted that he has apparently never traveled in the West, I’m surprised that he’s never seen a cowboy or a surfing movie.

  11. I think all Portuguese should know portuguese. I think all Americans should know and use English well (accents are permissible). Warum denken Sie nicht? Why don’t you think so? Ja tanker det ar god. I think that is good. Latina lingua facilima non est. The latin language isn’t easy; but if I lived in Ancient Rome, you could bet I would know it. My neighbor lived into her nineties without learning English, because her family indulged her by speaking Norwegian to her. Hun har en familg det Norsk snakked. It is best to know English well to communicate well. It even helps to have some common education in nursery rhymes (“things that go bump in the night”), “growing like Topsy”, (“it didn’t pan out”) and so forth, to really understand one’s own people and another people. One can’t help but note how many foreigners thought our streets were paved with gold; or that we still have to duck arrows from hostile savages. Even the sophisticated, worldly dilettante may miss the American character. How many foreigners think all America is embodied in New York, or Los Angeles, or Fort Apache, or something? It is also helpful in understanding one’s own country and one’s own language to understand other countries and their languages.
    Adjö, Auf Wiedersehen, Guten Abend, Dos Vedanya,
    Arigatou, and Kumbawa.
    Dr. K.

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