The United States of America has gone for more than two hundred years without a designated official language. The United States is a unique country with a very diverse population. The American Community survey conducted by the Census Bureau shows that the number of minorities is increasing and that of non-Hispanic whites shrinking. The study showed that Hispanics have grown to become the largest minority group in the United States, this fact is mainly attributed to the rising number of immigrants especially from Mexico and Latin American countries. 14.5% of Americans are Hispanics while blacks stand at 12.5%. The Hispanic figure is important to the debate on English since they have the largest population of non-English speakers in the United States. Today, there are more than three hundred different languages spoken in the United States.
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What is the meaning of declaring English as the official language? If English is declared the Official Language of the United States of America, all government business at any level would be carried out only in English. Such government operations include all public records, legislation,
- Exception- Unless specifically provided by statute, no person has a right, entitlement, or claim to have the Government of the United States or any of its officials or representatives act, communicate, perform or provide services, or provide materials in any language other than English. (National Language Act of, 2008)
documents, hearings, regulations, and public meetings too would be conducted in English. This does not prohibit the use of other languages for such things as judicial proceedings, public service, and the promotion of tourism. If English is made the official language of the United States, It does not disallow anyone from speaking or carrying out any other business in a tongue of his/her choice.
“If an exception is made with respect to the use of a language other the English, the exception does not create a legal entitlement to additional services in that language or any language other than English.” (National Language Act of, 2008)
In my view, English should be made the official language of the United States should because all Americans stand to benefit. The following is an issue that was raised by Senator Hayakawa. “For the first time in our history, The United States of America is faced with the probability of having the kind of linguistic division that has divided Canada in recent years…”.(Crawford 85). S.I. Hayakawa was the senator for California who introduced the constitutional English Language Amendment in 1981. He also founded U.S. English, an organization seeking to lobby English to be made the official language. Even though I do not entirely agree with Senator Hayakawa, I think his point of concern is credible and one that should be given some consideration. He was worried about political divisions along linguistic lines as is the case in Canada. “Political divisions become hardened and made more difficult to work out when they are accompanied by linguistic differences–and therefore conflicts of ethnic pride” (Crawford, p. 85). Presently, I think we are already witnessing divisions within the race and linguistic lineage coming into play in politics. for instance, the Overwhelming majority of African Americans and Hispanics voted for Barrack Obama in the just concluded presidential elections. This is a cause for concern since voters should not affiliate with someone merely because of his race but out of the agenda a politician has put on the table. Even though making English the official language of the United States would not automatically end such divisions, it is a positive step in that direction.
“Bilingualism shuts doors. It nourishes self-made ghettos, and self-made ghettos nourish racial antagonism.”(Keyser, p. 52).
A large percentage of Spanish speakers do not know how to speak English, at all. Taking into consideration that English has nevertheless been the predominantly used language in American history, such a situation is not very encouraging. Failure to learn English or the lack of knowledge of it considerably diminishes the chances of a foreign language speaker finding a good job, education among other things. And why are they called foreign languages? Simply because so far English is still widely recognized as the standard United states language. As Keyser puts it, “Bilingualism facilitates concentrations of Spanish speakers to stay together and not be assimilated” (Keyser, p. 52).
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The end result of this is isolation and alienation for those affected. Making English the official language will in a way make foreign-language speakers improve on their efforts to learn English. Foreign language speakers and immigrants will in the end stand to benefit from such a move.
“We expect those below the age of 50 seeking naturalization to show competence in English as a condition of citizenship. However, the federal government still requires that ballots be printed in other languages. This is encouraging dependency on other languages”. (Shumway, p. 18)
The above scenario creates a paradox within the United States law. If some form of language competence is required when applying for citizenship, then why don’t the legislators go ahead and formalize the language in the system.
“Bilingualism that is valued is the elite variety–full competency in two languages among a small percentage of people for the purpose of scholarly work, diplomacy, foreign trade, or travel “(Porter, p. 90).
Bilingualism is an enviable trait if adopted by foreign-language speakers; it will not only enable them to acquire employment but also diversify their field. Though it has its difficulties as Porter notes, “The bilingual education establishment is fighting to maintain its primacy and prerogative unchallenged” (Porter, p. 90)
“Foreign languages are useful, and we should teach more of them. But they are foreign languages, not coequals.” (Wolfson, p. 45).
I think that it is useful to teach foreign languages but this should not be done at the expense of English. I also don’t see why making English the official language should in any way hinder the learning of foreign languages.
“Hispanic leaders do not seem to be alarmed that large numbers of Cubans, Mexicans, and Puerto Ricans who do not speak English and have no intentions of learning.” (Crawford, p. 85).
The above concern was voiced by Republican senator Hayakawa. The Hispanic leadership should step up their efforts in sensitizing their people to the importance of learning English instead of opposing making the language official.
- Diversity growing in nearly every state: Associated Press.
- Hayakawa, Senator S.I. (1985). The case for official English. In J. Crawford (ed.), Language loyalties pp. 81-84
- Keyser, L. (1986). Sea to shining sea. pp. 51-53.
- Porter, R. P. (1990). Forked tongue: The politics of bilingual education. New York: Basic Books, Inc. pp. 87-93
- Shumway, Representative N. (1988). Preserve the primacy of English. Language loyalties pp. 17-19
- Wolfson, N. (1989). Perspectives: Sociolinguistics and TESOL. Cambridge: Newbury House Publishers. pp. 43-47
- Skutnabb, Kangas, T. (1991). Language, literacy and minorities. London: pp. 23-27