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DAILY TEXAN (U. Texas-Austin)
'English-only' Betrays Xenophobia
by Brian Winter
January 27, 1999
©Copyright 1999 U-WIRE. All Rights Reserved.
AUSTIN, Texas -- "With statehood , we will not become blue-eyed
blondes.Neither will it snow in Puerto Rico. We will remain as
we are ... speaking Spanish, eating fritters."
This text, from a commercial on Puerto Rican television in September
of 1998, was designed to reassure residents of the commonwealth
that statehood would not mean the end of Puerto Rican culture.
Ironically, similar ads could prove necessary in the U.S. to convince
a paranoid majority that the country's growing number of Spanish-speaking
citizens will not result in economic and cultural chaos.
The movement to legislate English as the official U.S. language
is completely unnecessary and, at worst, inflammatory. Americans
shouldn't forget that this country has always been a nation of
immigrants who eventually learn English; legislating an official
language would only betray the xenophobia of a dwindling majority.
Many predicate their wish to legislate an official language on
the fear that the growing concentration of Spanish-speaking immigrants
will provide a linguistic base sufficient to preclude the widespread
use of English. However, sheer pragmatism has always dictated
the need for a common language in commerce, education and government.
The mere efficiency of a unifying language has always provided
a far more compelling need for people to learn English than any
law ever could.
Even the most remote possibility of a chiefly Spanish-speaking
51st state has fueled the overactive imaginations of those behind
the English-only movement. A poll commissioned by U.S. English,
Inc., an interest group, found that 74 percent of Americans favor
requiring that Puerto Rico establish English as its official language
prior to becoming a state. Many argue that admission of the commonwealth
would destroy the supposed historical linguistic homogeneity of
What homogeneity? This is a nation of immigrants who learned English
because they had to. The evolution of a unifying language is not
an artificially-engineered concept derived from any rule of law.
America has experienced massive influxes of immigrants before,
and English still survived as the primary language. Ever met a
third-generation Italian American who speaks no English? There's
a reason you probably haven't: efficiency.
The existence of a common language benefits America. For this
practical reason, English should continue to be the language of
our public schools. Schools should conduct classes in Spanish
(or whatever language is appropriate) only as a way to integrate
students into English-speaking society. The naturally occurring
need for a common language would likely spur more Puerto Ricans
to learn English to better integrate themselves into the American
economic and governmental fabric.
Meanwhile, movements to legislate an official language convey
little other than cultural discrimination. The Puerto Rican advertisement
cited above was touted by English First, another lobbying group,
as the "pro-statehood commercial they don't want you to see!"
This allegedly scandalous TV ad simply reassures Puerto Ricans
that their cultural and linguistic heritage would remain intact
if they chose statehood -- hardly reason to dispatch Sue Ann to
"go git the shotgun."
The Roman Empire encompassed countless linguistic groups, but
Latin emerged nearly everywhere as the language of trade and government.
America may indeed face a future where a large percentage of its
population speaks a language other than English. But English will
likely remain the widespread de facto language of choice because
of its utility as a unifier. No legislation is needed to create
this condition. Alarmists who politicize the issue merely betray
another unfortunate trend in American history: a rather inexplicable
fear of outsiders.