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Should Immigrants Be Required to Learn a National Language?
August 28, 2008 7:36 AM   Subscribe

What are the reasons for and against constitutionally requiring a specific national language?

I'm particularly interested in the United States and the frequent debate about a constitutional amendment to require knowledge of the English language, but I realize the MeFi population spans the globe. So rather than being U.S. centric, please tell me what the debating points are in your home country. Thanks for your assistance.
posted by netbros to Law & Government (74 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
 
Just wanted to point out the VERY big difference between your post title ("Should Immigrants Be Required to Learn a National Language?") and your actual post question, paraphrased: "Should governments enforce an official national language? Why or why not?"

The first question has to do with how immigrants choose to assimilate their native culture with the one they adopt in their new country. The second question deals with the implications of social, political, and economic pressures that occur when governments take an official stance on the most major cultural aspect of the society that they govern, its language.
posted by iamkimiam at 7:51 AM on August 28, 2008


Languages are organic, dynamic and don't follow bulls given from above. What English language do we use? Do we have a group of English linguists sitting in a room deciding which words are English and which are not part of the canon, like they have in France? Where they work towards the never ending goal of completing a French dictionary?

What you end up with, if you go this route, is what Europe had after the fall of the Roman empire. A select group of literate people able to read the official language of the Church and a constant downward push on those who cannot understand the right language. I do not want a scenario in which the ruling population speaks one language and translates it into the language of the local population.

Most importantly it runs against the premise that government and social institutions should be accessible to everyone in the nation, especially the classes of people which are most likely to suffer from oppression and poverty. I mean this isn't 17th century France where you wander 50 miles outside of Paris and can barely recognize the language spoken there. (Sorry to keep using France as an example)
posted by geoff. at 7:51 AM on August 28, 2008 [1 favorite]


I'm fairly sure the biggest argument against is that it provides a framework for excluding governmental services/benefits/etc to those who don't speak/read/write the language.

For bonus points: If the national language is english, does that mean I'm just as fucked if I'm illiterate as if I speak German?
posted by TomMelee at 8:09 AM on August 28, 2008


This question is pretty diffuse. Are you asking whether there should be a specific language test that immigrants must pass (to get a green card? student visa? citizenship?). that's a question of sociology and philosophy. And what's an "immigrant"?

Or, more simply, should a government have an official operating language (for its printed forms? for being spoken in its offices?). In the latter case, an immigrant (you've really gotta define "immigrant") could function by simply having friends who can deal with the official language. That sort of official language could be justified on grounds of efficiency.

Disagreeing with iamkimiam, in the latter case, I'd say the government might not have any desire to disadvantage anybody, but might just need to simplify its own operations. The government might even provide interpreters and helpers.
posted by JimN2TAW at 8:12 AM on August 28, 2008


I'm not terribly global-minded in my day to day life, but I would never dream of moving to a country with a different primary language without learning it first. Even if I could be pretty sure most people could also speak English. Not to put too fine a point on it, but that would be the height of rudeness and arrogance in my opinion. So yeah, I'm a little perturbed that people move to the US and expect to be catered to in their own language. I see nothing wrong with a "national language". It would actually be very environmentally conscious too. Can you imagine how much paper would be saved if all government forms were only printed in English? Won't somebody please think of the spotted owl?!!
posted by jluce50 at 8:23 AM on August 28, 2008


One huge con to government "enforcement" of a national language would be further disenfranchisement of those not recognized as being fluent enough to vote. If there was a requirement to demonstrate competency in the language, a huge number of older immigrants - indeed, even people born in the country - would face major challenges to gain that recognition because of the financial burden of arranging or taking a test to prove one's national-language ability, taking classes to get up to speed, and dealing with the prospect of being dramatically underrepresented in government if many people in a given area all didn't speak the language well enough to meet standards. See: Latvia.

To me, the sum total of "obligations" of anyone in this country are paying taxes and jury duty.
posted by mdonley at 8:28 AM on August 28, 2008


I'm a little perturbed that people move to the US and expect to be catered to in their own language.

Not everyone moves here by choice. I have relatives who came to the States to escape persecution and, oddly enough, they didn't stop for language lessons.

It's also been my experience, living in neighborhoods where you're every bit as likely to hear Spanish as English, that most non-English speaking immigrants don't expect to be catered to at all, much less in their native language.
posted by JaredSeth at 8:43 AM on August 28, 2008 [1 favorite]


A constitutional amendment can't require people to learn a language, strictly speaking, but it can make English the only language of business for government. People are free to have a hard time interacting with government without being stripped of their citizenship and deported. And this is very different, as noted above, from a normative statement that immigrants should attempt to learn the language of their adopted country. I am strongly supportive of the latter statement, and would be strongly opposed to a constitutional amendment for a national language, were I an American.

In Canada, there are two official languages - English and French - but the point of making them official was to make it easier for French Canadians to access and work in government, not to send a message to immigrants.
posted by Dasein at 8:47 AM on August 28, 2008


People naturalizing are already required to demonstrate knowledge of English (except for the very old).

Proposed amendments never address that. What they do is make English the OFFICIAL LANGUAGE!!! Doing so has the following benefits:

(1) It helps you kick out icky brown people whose cooking smells funny.
(2) It gives you a reason to feel superior to some icky brown people whose cooking smells funny.
(3) It inconveniences icky brown people whose cooking smells funny. That will show them for being brown and cooking different foods!

It has the following problems:

(1) It means that somebody has to define what English is, and which words are English and which words aren't English. That is, somebody somewhere has to decide which words in Spanish are actually English and which ones aren't. Costs associated with hashing this sort of thing out will overwhelm, by a huge margin, any purported savings from printing a set of forms in English-only and firing government translators.

(2) It's disgustingly racist.

(3) It replaces a problem that is nonexistent to minor with a set of very real problems. What does English-only mean? Does it mean that public hospitals are forbidden from communicating in anything but English? Then people die. Does it mean that courts are forbidden from accepting testimony in anything but English? Then justice doesn't get done.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 8:49 AM on August 28, 2008 [8 favorites]


I wasn't suggesting that governments are consciously oppressing their peoples when they take an official stance on language policy (although in many instances this is true). The pressures are inherent in the action of taking a stance. Making a choice to do things one way is a "no-vote" for the unchosen. The unofficial varieties of the language, and their associated cultures, will suffer for it. Making a language choice is giving power and privilege to one group over another. You can say that it's not what's intended, but that doesn't matter, because the very act of doing so grants it.

This is not a simple issue. It can't be fixed by slapping on a translation patch, or hiring a few interpreters to make sense of it all. And it's not about paperwork or saving trees.
posted by iamkimiam at 8:55 AM on August 28, 2008


The main reason to have english as the national language is to reduce the cost of government. Producing forms and training government service staff in multiple languages is extraordinarily expensive, and this cost does not translate into an appreciable benefit for citizens. If you are a citizen, you must speak the language.

I am always surprised when people don't support english as an official language. I have found that these people generally don't understand government or economics, and their ignorance translates into a fear that they might discriminate somehow by not having a government that is all things to all people. This is, of course, not the purpose of government, and the tax burden makes our economy less efficient. It is a sad irony that people who share a common language tend to congeal more, intermarry more, and generally become less racist.

At the end of the day, you have to decide what your government should spend its money on. I am a firm believer that government should spend money on reducing violent crime. After that, they can give me my money back so I can spend it on feeding and caring for my family.
posted by ewkpates at 9:11 AM on August 28, 2008


One of my worries about "English-only"-ism is the effect it would have on children. One can complain about the "arrogance" of adults not knowing English, but suggesting the same of children (who may very well be US citizens) would be disgusting. Bilingualism matters so much when it comes to education that I can't imagine anyone would be against it. Having bilingual classes makes a huge difference for elementary school students who speak a foreign language at home; otherwise even conveying the simple logistics of attending school become a challenge. Getting across the idea of snow days is difficult enough with a language barrier; much less any real learning in class.
posted by kiltedtaco at 9:13 AM on August 28, 2008


The main reason to have english as the national language is to reduce the cost of government. Producing forms and training government service staff in multiple languages is extraordinarily expensive

...but dramatically less than the cost of fighting neverending lawsuits about what counts as English, which is the only realistic alternative.

And the cost of denying services to people, or refusing services from people, is likewise very high.

Are you saying that public hospital ERs should be forbidden from communicating in anything but English? If you're not, you don't really mean English-only, you mean English-mostly; you just want something to feel good about that says that them icky brown people really are BAD PEOPLE for not speaking English all the time. If you are, then you're an inhuman monster and none of us should care what you think.

Likewise, are you really saying that courts should refuse testimony that would require a translator? You really want murders to go unpunished because the only witness was a nonanglophone tourist?
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 9:54 AM on August 28, 2008 [2 favorites]


To me, the sum total of "obligations" of anyone in this country are paying taxes and jury duty

I'd add "voting" to that, but that's just me.

Are people forgetting the government is supposed to serve the people, and not the other way around? Where would it get off dictating which people it would like to serve.

ROU_Xenophobe, though it seems to me to be blatantly inappropriate for the United States, given its supposed raison d'etre, there ARE reasons other than racism that a country might mandate a particular language. Your "icky-brown people" rhetoric is needlessly antagonistic and will likely turn off even the people who agree with you.
posted by small_ruminant at 10:10 AM on August 28, 2008


1. Government is there to serve citizens. Nobody else.
2. Emergency services are for citizens. I don't expect to go to other countries, walk into emergency rooms, and demand that I be given medical treatment in english. This would be ridiculous in most countries.
3. I am offended by the icky-brown reference. It sounds like racism pretending not to be. Just as I don't want people knocking on my door asking for emergency services, I don't want non-english speakers coming to my country to demand services.

If you want to join doctors without borders or donate your time to the peace corps, that's fantastic. But don't insist that we run the country like an international aid station. And don't pretend that you have the moral high ground because you want to... what you have is no realistic vision for encouraging people to manage their countries better.
posted by ewkpates at 10:26 AM on August 28, 2008


2. Emergency services are for citizens. I don't expect to go to other countries, walk into emergency rooms, and demand that I be given medical treatment in english. This would be ridiculous in most countries.

So if you're touristing about in Paris, Rome, Bangkok, or Rio and you come down with a mysterious rash/get bitten by something poisonous/your appendix ruptures/you cough blood and get diagnosed with TB and quarantined, you'd be totally fine with getting treated without even the hope of understanding what they're treating you for?

It's all very noble to be concerned about government waste in printing forms in Spanish, Vietnamese, etc., but at least in the realm of public health, it is CRAPTACULARLY bad public health policy which runs the very real risk of putting you, a tax!-paying! citizen! at greater risk for catching something. Not something brought by an illegal immigrant, mind you, but something innocently carried in by a totally legal tourist. Because we (the US) still have those, thanks to our weak dollar.

And seriously - emergency services are for citizens? No tourists who get in car accidents can use them? No work-visa holders can use them? Foreign students?

Have some more coffee and think that through a little more.
posted by rtha at 10:53 AM on August 28, 2008 [4 favorites]


Not sure I understand this supposed logistical nightmare of 'defining what English is'. Couldn't you just as easily reverse that argument and say that it's impossible to provide bilingual services because it's impossible to define which words are Spanish and which aren't, and any attempt by government to communicate in Spanish implicitly disenfranchises those who speak a different dialect or variation?
posted by mattholomew at 10:54 AM on August 28, 2008


1. Government is there to serve citizens. Nobody else.

Government is there to serve it's legal residents AND to make the country run smoother, which logistically means providing some basic services for everyone.

2. Emergency services are for citizens. I don't expect to go to other countries, walk into emergency rooms, and demand that I be given medical treatment in english. This would be ridiculous in most countries.

That's just silly.
posted by small_ruminant at 10:58 AM on August 28, 2008


there ARE reasons other than racism that a country might mandate a particular language

Such as? What are the reasons, other than ethnic chauvinism, why a country might specifically forbid itself from offering any services in translation? Note: not reasons why a country might, in fact, not offer a service in some specific language, but reasons why it would specifically forbid itself from offering those services in any other language.

In any case, what some other hypothetical or actual country might do doesn't really matter. The question was about English-only in the US. English-only in the US is strictly a racist, or latent-racist or coded-racist, phenomenon.

Just as I don't want people knocking on my door asking for emergency services, I don't want non-english speakers coming to my country to demand services.

That you think this occurs in more than trivial numbers, or that translation is "extraordinarily" expensive, shows that at best your grasp of the facts is exceedingly bad. The consistent tone you have throughout in referring to "demands" to be served, and the US as an "international aid station," gives me no reason to think that the best-case actually applies to you.

I am astonished that you think that ERs should be forbidden from seeking translation when treating non-anglophones. I threw that out there as "Here is a consequence of English-only that nobody could possibly support," and... wow. You would really rather let people die than allow a hospital worker who speaks Hindi to translate for a Hindi-speaking patient?
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 11:02 AM on August 28, 2008 [1 favorite]


[a few comments removed -- question is about what the arguments are in your country DO NOT TURN THIS THREAD INTO AN ARGUMENT about the topic at hand, and please keep "ironic racist" statements to a minimum. please, thank you. ]
posted by jessamyn at 11:12 AM on August 28, 2008


ROU_Xeno, I don't necessarily agree with the prior author's point but it seems you're building a straw man out of his/her argument and defeating that.

I am astonished that you think that ERs should be forbidden from seeking translation when treating non-anglophones. I threw that out there as "Here is a consequence of English-only that nobody could possibly support," and... wow. You would really rather let people die than allow a hospital worker who speaks Hindi to translate for a Hindi-speaking patient?

There's a big difference between 'being forbidden from seeking' and 'being required to provide'. It is reasonable to be concerned about the range of languages that must be provided, which dialects should be included/excluded, and what the liability is if someone dies because a particular language was not provided.
posted by mattholomew at 11:12 AM on August 28, 2008


It is a sad irony that people who share a common language tend to congeal more, intermarry more, and generally become less racist.

Yeah, this has worked spectacularly well in this country so far with black folks and white folks.
posted by desuetude at 11:04 AM on August 28 [+] [!]


There's some truth in your facetious comment, so I won't disagree or blame you for making it. However, one bright spot in this chaotic zoo we call New York City is the accelerating rate of intermarriage we can see happening all around us. (Please don't bug me for cites; I'm at work.)

And look at the mulatto and Asian-whatever mixtures who are becoming more and more prominent on the national scene. (I could give examples, but they would only be examples; the trend should already be apparent.)
posted by JimN2TAW at 11:14 AM on August 28, 2008


Not sure I understand this supposed logistical nightmare of 'defining what English is'. Couldn't you just as easily reverse that argument and say that it's impossible to provide bilingual services because it's impossible to define which words are Spanish and which aren't

No, you couldn't. You can provide bilingual services by translating a form into Spanish as it is commonly spoken. There is no need to define which words are Spanish and which are, say, Arabic (which loaned many words to Spanish) before translating into Spanish.

But saying "The government may not use any language other than English" requires the government to specify what is English and what isn't. Is "bratwurst" or "salsa" English now? How many foreign words have to appear in a row before something stops being English and starts being foreign? Is "habeas corpus" okay but "in loco parentis" forbidden to the state? Are physicians in public hospitals forbidden from giving orders in medical Latin or abbreviations thereunto?
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 11:15 AM on August 28, 2008


It is reasonable to be concerned about the range of languages that must be provided, which dialects should be included/excluded, and what the liability is if someone dies because a particular language was not provided.

It is indeed.

English-only movements in the US don't do that, though. Nor do they seek to put some sort of cost/benefit calculus in place before the government is allowed to translate into some particular language. They seek to simply forbid the government from doing business in, or providing services in, any language other than English.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 11:24 AM on August 28, 2008


JimN2TAW, I agree with you. I'm cheered by the accelerating rate of intermarriage as evidence that the gut reaction of OTHER! OTHER! fades. Things have come a long way in this regard just in my 34 years.

I could've phrased my comment more constructively, so I'm not whiny about the deletion. My point was that the defenses of a national language seem to run counter to how people actually act. And that suggesting that a national language will make people less racist is bizarre. Anyway, socioeconomic status is a much better predictor of assimilation than language.
posted by desuetude at 11:28 AM on August 28, 2008


(2) It's disgustingly racist.

While agreeing with the premise that it's disgustingly exclusionary, I have to point out that it's not strictly racist.

Providing services only in English impacts non-English speaking white Europeans (e.g. the French, the Italians, Bulgarians, Russians) or francophone Canadians just as much as it does other (non-white) racial groups.

Let's be very careful about using a potentially incendiary word - racist - that really doesn't apply here.
posted by johnvaljohn at 11:29 AM on August 28, 2008


ROU, it seems like you're jumping into the middle of an argument that you've had a thousand times, which means you're ascribing positions to us no on has made. For instance, so far no one HERE has mentioned forbidding service in other languages, though I can certainly imagine they've done so elsewhere. Rush Limbaugh is who springs to mind for some reason.
posted by small_ruminant at 11:30 AM on August 28, 2008


That's what the English-only proposals in the US do, though. I assumed that netbros was curious about why someone would support the proposals that are actually out there.

Yes, I get too testy about this. Too much exposure to morons in Texas advocating ENGLISH ONLY NO SPANISH EVER without much thought about it, and it's difficult for me to treat it with anything other than direct contempt.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 11:43 AM on August 28, 2008


If there are "few and far between" non-English speakers asking for emergency services, then it is not economic to staff hospitals with speakers of every language. If a non-english speaker needs emergency services, it is unlikely that there will be a conversation about it. Many emergency services are provided to unresponsive persons. If you are in a foreign country and have a medical problem (and you don't have a plan for medical problems, begin by contacting your consulate.) Also, make sure your insurance covers foreign medical expenses.

There is a huge huge cost to stocking government forms in a wide variety of languages. Translating these forms, printing them, distributing them, its very expensive. There is no racism in wanting to save money. There isn't an unlimited amount of money to run the government.

Lastly, this isn't a racist question. Blurting out "racist" every 10 seconds isn't an argument. If a store doesn't accept foreign currency, that isn't racism, it's just that it isn't cost effective to accept foreign currency. Likewise, it is not cost effective to provide government services in a variety of languages.

There is a difference between "not accommodating" and "discriminating".
posted by ewkpates at 11:51 AM on August 28, 2008


If there are "few and far between" non-English speakers asking for emergency services, then it is not economic to staff hospitals with speakers of every language.

This is true. And in the (increasingly small number of) counties where .001% of people don't speak at least some English, then hospitals and the like probably don't have staff/forms in non-English languages. In which case, why do you need a law mandating English-only?

But that's not what you were saying before. And there are lots and lots of cities and exurbs where multiple languages are spoken by legal residents, illegal residents, visitors, students, etc. When public health is at stake, it's the best possible scenario for the city/county/region/state/country as a whole that the dissemination of health information is not hampered by a useless, pointless, and dangerous "policy" like English-only.
posted by rtha at 12:07 PM on August 28, 2008


If there are "few and far between" non-English speakers asking for emergency services, then it is not economic to staff hospitals with speakers of every language.

But no one says we have to, right? The opposite of English-ONLY isn't staffing people for every single language ever spoken.

I mean, let's say I run an ice-cream business. I sell many different flavors. Some people want to lobby me to provide chocolate-ONLY because most people like chocolate. They say this is cheaper than providing every single kind of ice cream in the world. But I wasn't doing that in the first place. There's a middle ground between the two options that is safely and fairly occupied.

I could be wrong, but it sounds like you're confusing "lack of official language" with "every language is an official language."
posted by Solon and Thanks at 12:14 PM on August 28, 2008 [1 favorite]


There is a huge huge cost to stocking government forms in a wide variety of languages. Translating these forms, printing them, distributing them, its very expensive.

You assert this. Show it. What is the "huge huge" cost?

I can't easily find it. I can easily find that the appropriation for the Government Printing Office -- that is, the entire cost of all printing in the federal government, including everything in English and everything published in every other language that they might publish things in was only $122 million in 2007.

That someone could really believe that some small fraction of that is a "huge huge" cost is baffling.

If a store doesn't accept foreign currency, that isn't racism, it's just that it isn't cost effective to accept foreign currency. Likewise, it is not cost effective to provide government services in a variety of languages.

I agree, except that English-only proposals in the US don't do that. They simply forbid the government from doing business in, or providing any services in, any language other than English. Even when and if the benefits of doing so outweigh the (minimal) cost.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 12:19 PM on August 28, 2008


Okay, I understand the argument about how imposing "English only" would be a burden because then the government would have to define which words are English and which are not, and this could be a nightmare. But other countries have national languages. Canada has two. Has the government of Canada defined exactly what constitutes English, and what constitutes French? If they have, can we not look to them for an example? If they have not, have there been problems of the magnitude that are being predicted in this thread?
posted by Bella Sebastian at 12:25 PM on August 28, 2008


Let's just vote on it. I want safer streets, and I'm willing to mandate english only to pay for it. I don't think that there is a real problem here... if we mandate english, then everyone will learn it. Government funding is a zero sum game.

This isn't an ice cream flavor issue, its a currency issue. Currency is how we "communicate" economic value... and some people think that our ice cream business should accept any kind of currency... well, that's expensive, and I don't want to pay for it.

This conversation doesn't seem to be about money, and it doesn't seem to be about practicality. I don't know what its about. Maybe it should be about opportunity... English is a really good language to know in quite a few countries, not just here. Its not like we are demanding that people learn Latin or something.

Is this conversation driven by some kind of secret illegal immigrant agenda that I don't know about? That xenophobe guy brought up Texas... maybe the non-english speakers in Texas are there illegally. Is that relevant?
posted by ewkpates at 12:26 PM on August 28, 2008


But other countries have national languages. Canada has two. Has the government of Canada defined exactly what constitutes English, and what constitutes French?

I expect you'll find that the official-languages bit in Canada means only that everything the government does must be available in English and French.

Not that anything the government does must not be available in any language other than English or French, which is the analogous case to the American proposals.

If nothing else, I'd be astonished if the Canadian government didn't translate the bulk of its forms into at least some First Nations languages.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 12:44 PM on August 28, 2008


I want safer streets, and I'm willing to mandate english only to pay for it. I don't think that there is a real problem here... if we mandate english, then everyone will learn it.

I'm not honestly following your logic at all. What does a national language have to do with the safety of your streets? Are you saying that money spent printing voter registration forms in Mandarin is diverting funds from your police department?

And how will mandating English force more people to learn it? The motivated ones already do because it's more practical, the ones with no interest/ability to learn English aren't going to change their minds and get studyin' because of a law.

How on earth would this be enforced, anyway? What is considered "speaking" English -- if you go sign up for your driver's license and the DMV guy can't understand your accent, are you turned away? Do the police tear down signs in markets advertising groceries in Spanish? That's not a good use of time and money AND it's interfering with, well, capitalism. If a grocery store sells more avocados when the sign is in Spanish, who's to tell them how to communicate with their customers? If a bank wants to offer a Spanish option on their ATMs, is it considered undermining the National Language? And what about tourists? How do we accommodate visitors to the United States if English is the mandated national language?
posted by desuetude at 12:57 PM on August 28, 2008 [1 favorite]


Providing services only in English impacts non-English speaking white Europeans (e.g. the French, the Italians, Bulgarians, Russians) or francophone Canadians just as much as it does other (non-white) racial groups.

Let's be very careful about using a potentially incendiary word - racist - that really doesn't apply here.


I think you'll find that most English-only rhetoric is target against the specter of "and then Johnny will HAVE to speak Spanish to pay his parking ticket"! I would be very surprised (other than extremely localized cases, i.e. a town with a massive influx of ... well, where is the US getting a large influx of white European immigrants from?) to find the proponents of English-only amendments and laws to be overly concerned with French- (unless n. African), Italian-, Bulgarian-, or Russian-speaking immigrants.
posted by polexa at 1:05 PM on August 28, 2008


In my country there are two official languages, English and Maori. Maori only achieved recognition as an official language recently. The policy of earlier years assumed (and indeed encouraged) the death of spoken Maori. Arguments about the status of the Maori language are all bound up with the politics of the indigenous minority whose language it is. Proponents of English only generally assume that we will turn into one blended (but Anglo-dominant), monocultural people; defenders of Maori conversely see it as critical to preserving both their culture and their claims to sovereignty.

As far as immigration goes, we have a "points" system where only immigrants who score enough points, or who have strong family ties with existing citizens can come. English proficiency is part of the points system, but it is possible to meet the threshold with minimal English if you are very rich and very talented. There's no requirement for English for people immigrating as part of family reunification. I guess the assumption is that in an English-majority environment, it's in your own interests to learn it.

Having said that, much government communication is translated into the languages most common among immigrants and refugees. We're not very dogmatic about this stuff these days.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 1:07 PM on August 28, 2008


Let's just vote on it. I want safer streets, and I'm willing to mandate english only to pay for it.

I'm really struggling to understand your argument here. What is it about not speaking English that makes someone dangerous?

It's not as if you're going to end up somewhere in America where you can't access help because you speak English. Even if the people in your immediate vicinity do not, 911 operaters still do.
posted by Solon and Thanks at 1:30 PM on August 28, 2008


This isn't an ice cream flavor issue, its a currency issue. Currency is how we "communicate" economic value... and some people think that our ice cream business should accept any kind of currency... well, that's expensive, and I don't want to pay for it.

We are not talking about accepting different kinds of currency, because currency is easily exchanged. This is a straw man and a red herring.
posted by Solon and Thanks at 1:34 PM on August 28, 2008


I'm sorry for the triple post, but I'd like to head off a response that "this isn't an ice cream issue." I know that - I was trying to illustrate that just because our official language isn't English doesn't mean we have to hire a speaker of every single language in the world in a hospital. That is, English is not our official language. You are confusing that status with "Every language in the world is our official language."

I put it in metaphor terms (official language isn't chocolate - doesn't mean we have to offer every flavor that isn't chocolate) because other people trying to explain this in plain terms didn't work.

The currency metaphor doesn't work because it doesn't make any sense when compared to hiring people who speak languages. I guess you could say that if the dollar weren't our official currency, and we had no official currency, no store would HAVE to accept any currency they didn't want to. Again, you're confusing the idea of "no official x" with "every x is our official x."
posted by Solon and Thanks at 1:42 PM on August 28, 2008 [1 favorite]


The problem with declaring a single national language at the exclusion of others is it doesn't practically work. If you can't communicate with people that live in your country, you have a major problem, and as we've seen, throwing them out doesn't work so hot. I think it absolutely makes sense to try to enforce some language assimilation - after all, why should I have to learn a second language not of my choice just to adequately function in my city? But the reality is that unless you force naturalization on anyone living here (massively unpractical), there are going to be other languages, and since the government still has to deal with these people, the government has to, to some extent, be flexible with a "one national language" thing, especially for public services.
posted by devilsbrigade at 1:43 PM on August 28, 2008


...you'll find that the official-languages bit in Canada means only that everything the government does must be available in English and French.

Speaking as one who has wrestled with this many times, that's exactly what it means: any Canadian (Federal) Government publication must be available in both official languages. Most provincial and municipal services are exempt, unless they themselves pass a law requiring bilingualism. If a document is available only in English, say, it must be translated into French, if requested. And yes, this is very costly. A fifty-page document can cost anywhere from $5000 for a quick translation (in about 2 weeks) to $50,000 (and a year) for a translation that's legally identical.

The upside is that the majority and supported minority populations can get access to government services in their mother tongue. The downside is the cost to translate and the the difficulties in hiring, retaining and training multi-lingual staff. It's just about impossible now to advance in the Canadian federal public service without being fluent in both languages.

Has the government of Canada defined exactly what constitutes English, and what constitutes French?

Not in the sense you are using it. There is no prescriptive definition of language in Canada (Canadians don't generally do presciptivism in law). If this ever became an issue, it would be decided by the Office of Official Languages, who are in charge of enforcing the Official Languages Act. Ultimately, our Supreme Court would have the last word, if they chose to hear the question.

If nothing else, I'd be astonished if the Canadian government didn't translate the bulk of its forms into at least some First Nations languages.

Some are, but not all, nor even most. This is an active area of discussion with the most (all) of the First Nations bands in Canada. There's many sides to this: 1) the federal and provincial governments don't provide service in the aboriginal languages. This is especially problematic for policing, justice and health; 2) To do so completely would be impossibly expensive; 3) All levels of government have a very poor record of attracting FN-speakers into public service. If we made all FN languages official tomorrow, it would be impossible to keep that law. There are places (NWT, Nunavut) where aboriginal languages have official status, but that's the exception rather than the rule.
posted by bonehead at 2:10 PM on August 28, 2008


And yes, this is very costly. A fifty-page document can cost anywhere from $5000 for a quick translation (in about 2 weeks) to $50,000 (and a year) for a translation that's legally identical.

$50,000 and a year: assuming 500 words per page, that would mean $2 per word. That's extremely expensive. And a translator working 5-day weeks for 40 weeks (long vacations) would be translating 250 words a day. The only way I can see that happening is extremely technical legal documents.
posted by Monday, stony Monday at 3:47 PM on August 28, 2008


Speaking as one who has wrestled with this many times, that's exactly what it means: any Canadian (Federal) Government publication must be available in both official languages.

Yeah, but that's not what official-English means down here. Anything the federal government does is already in English (except, maaaaybe, for stuff unique to Puerto Rico or Guam or other outlying possessions).

Official-English down here means that the government must never provide a document, form, or service in any language except English. Not that it must be in English as well, but that translations out of English must not exist.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 3:53 PM on August 28, 2008


Just chiming in, very quietly, to address the issue of US hospitals, ERs, etc. and translation for those who do not speak English. My sister-in-law is a bilingual Asian immigrant who learned English many years ago, met my US-native brother in Europe and married him there. They have lived in the US many years now.

She has a job as a translator. A lot of her work, she told me, involves translating for doctors and hospitals. However, she never leaves her workplace; she might even work from home for all I know. Instead, she is contacted by phone to translate for medical providers who may be anywhere in the country. She is not "on staff" at a hospital, and the cost of her employment is carried by any single hospital, doctor, insurance company, or government agency. I don't know who books the expense, but I wouldn't be surprised if it was itemized on the bill and the claims. Anyhow, it sounds both cost-efficient and humane to me.
posted by Robert Angelo at 4:02 PM on August 28, 2008


...clarifying, her main work is translating between the patient and provider at the point-of-service. The job is wrenching, sometimes, the things she has to tell people.
posted by Robert Angelo at 4:04 PM on August 28, 2008


Should immigrants be required to learn a national language?

When? Before they arrive? What about the ones on a refugee visa who are IN A HURRY?

After they arrive? What about the four year old? What about the 84 year old? What about the retarded ones, who can't even speak their native language? What if they just don't/can't learn it, you kick them out? How do you assess when they've learned it well enough? Is it good enough for them to be as illiterate as the slowest kid to finish year 12, or year 10? Do they have to be better than that, maybe university entrance level? So you can only immigrate if you're reasonably clever/educable? What if you and your wife immigrate and it turns out that your 15 year old son is just never going to reach the required level of English proficiency? Kick him out, or the whole family? How long do they have to reach the required level? How do you define it?

Britain, I think, has an English test. In Australia you get points towards immigrating for your level of English competency, and a compulsory pre-citizenship english/knowledge test has been discussed: here's an editorial on the issue.
posted by jacalata at 6:10 PM on August 28, 2008


This is not about saving money, paperwork, or time. This is about race, nationality, and power—all three of which are inextricably tied to culture. And the "currency", "ice cream flavor", or "means of production/exchange" of/between culture(s) is language.

So what is the rationale/motive for a nation that officially places higher value of one culture over another through its integration and recognition of a prestige language into the governing body? What effect does this have on the other cultures/languages that get "demoted"? And what about when language policy is incorporated in an extremely wealthy, highly-stratified young nation that has a crippled education system, doesn't promote bilingualism, is geographically isolated from other linguistically diverse nations, has a massive immigration problem, and a history of intolerance, violence, and racism? What moves does a nation like this make if it would like to overcome all this and become an accepting, tolerant, wisely wealthy country full of educated individuals who want to raise their children with equal opportunities for all?

But yes, the reality is that there is a language in the US that is widely spoken, and its native speakers have an undeniable socioeconomic advantage by knowing and utilizing this language. That does not necessarily mean that the language, and thereby the culture tied to it, should be further elevated above other languages and cultures in that nation. Especially when doing so would disenfranchise the other cultures.*

I am NOT talking about illegal immigrants. I am talking about the 350,000 speakers of the 150+ indigenous languages of this country, as well as the (unknown number of) speakers of the 150+ immigrant languages spoken in this country. Think about that. Over three hundred different cultures, no one better than any other. And they've been here all along, having their emergencies, their miscommunications, their contributions and influences on each other, for hundreds of years. Why the HELL aren't we embracing this diversity more!?!?! To me, what's so great about this place is that I can do/be/say whatever the hell I want. I can buy guns, and speak out against my government. And most importantly, I can speak out in whatever language I damn well please, free from my government mandating what's *the* language I should be using if I want to get anywhere, receive any services, or pursue my damn happiness!

Also, what makes anybody think that somebody who doesn't speak English in America, trying to get by, doesn't realize what a socioeconomic disadvantage they are at by not speaking the commonly accepted language of power and solidarity? Imagine you are here in the good 'ole U.S of A. –maybe you were born here, maybe you are an immigrant, doesn't matter– and you are not a native speaker of English. Can you fucking imagine the worry, fear, social pressure, and insecurity you'd have about not being able to communicate with the ridiculously powerful English speaking majority? Where can you work? Where can you shop? How will you provide for your family? Educate your children? What if you end up in a hospital? What if you end up in a court? And how do all these fears effect your ability to learn and master the English language? What if people don't understand you?

Believe me, English Only –especially our current intolerant, and yes, RACIST, proposed version of it– is NOT the answer.

*It's very difficult to compare language policies of other countries to what is being proposed in the US because the social, historical, political, cultural, and economic landscapes of those places are VASTLY different than the current landscape here. A solution that works in Canada or Australia would not necessarily work in the US. In fact, it is likely to fail miserably, precisely because if it doesn't take into account these crucial factors listed above.
posted by iamkimiam at 12:28 AM on August 29, 2008 [3 favorites]


Another reason this is murky is that if you except the first nations, everyone in the US is a relatively recent immigrant. So the nationality/language debate is different from what it is and was in Europe, where ideas of "germanicity" and "italianosity" made these countries possible in the late 19th century. Nationalities and languages also helped the tearing apart of the holy germanic, then austro-hungarian empire.

Multilingualism in "buffer states" created after 1815 to further international stability (e.g.: Belgium) may also be of interest.
posted by Monday, stony Monday at 1:49 AM on August 29, 2008


$50,000 and a year: [...] $2 per word. [...] The only way I can see that happening is extremely technical legal documents.

Exactly, like policies, regulations and technical specifications to support the same. Also data reports of major significance, like the recent climate change document or census data or economic reports. You know, most of the major activities of government. Press releases and the like get translated quickly, but anything technical (science or economic usually), legal or regulatory takes a very long time and goes through multiple rounds of review by many stakeholders, thus the high cost.
posted by bonehead at 7:27 AM on August 29, 2008


Why the HELL aren't we embracing this diversity more!?!?! To me, what's so great about this place is that I can do/be/say whatever the hell I want. I can buy guns rifles for hunting, and speak out against my government. And most importantly, I can speak out in whatever language I damn well please, free from my government mandating what's *the* language I should be using if I want to get anywhere, receive any services, or pursue my damn happiness!

You've just described the Canadian 'mosaic' model, rather than the 'melting pot'. Multiculturalism, to give it it's official name, is built into our constitution and guaranteed in our Charter (equivalent roughly to your Declaration of Independence). Heritage is the federal department that oversees it. Wikipedia has a decent article on the history of the 'Canadian Mosaic'.
posted by bonehead at 7:38 AM on August 29, 2008


In many places an official national language is used to discriminate. Sri Lanka is one example worth reading about. Conversely, in Canada, the fear for many Quebecois is that without the language laws that protect French, there wouldn't be any Quebecois after a generation or two.
posted by chunking express at 7:43 AM on August 29, 2008


So, to make a point, I don't think there is any point in the US enacting language laws unless they want to discriminate. People learn English because it gives them an advantage when operating in a country that is predominantly English speaking. You don't need to go out of your way to enforce this unless you want to point out that those people that aren't speaking English as a first language really are second class citizens.
posted by chunking express at 7:54 AM on August 29, 2008


I agree wholeheartedly with both iamkimiam's view that the question has a flawed premise (native-language debates in other countries are largely irrelevant to English-only debates in the US), and his view on diversity and the value of English as a de facto lingua franca and linguistic bridge.

But his post, and an earlier post by deuetude raise one rationale for immigration that I've heard before that I find somewhat more convincing than the usual xenophobic and/or racist canards.

As opposed to places where many cultures mix and recognize English as a common language while also cherishing their native languages, what about specific places within the US where a single immigrant group has grown and developed an infrastructure of daily life so that its members need not ever learn English?

What if the melting pot theory no longer holds in face of a immigration tidal wave coming in one single direction. Yes, the Jews, Italians and Germans in the late 19th century and early 20th century were certain to assimilate, because to emerge from their small, non-self-sufficient ethnic enclaves, these immigrants needed to learn English. But what if that's no longer true, because Latinos have reached a critical mass? English-only policies may be the sole bulwark against that huge cultural shift.

To some people, those places already exist -- Miami, for example. In those places, it could be argued, keeping government services English-only might be the only incentive for Spanish speakers to learn English.

Now, I believe this view is wrong. I don't really believe there are many people in Miami who don't speak English and don't care to learn it. I don't believe Latinos are assimilating more slowly than other ethnic groups throughout American history. But is there someone who has data showing this? I would like to study them.
posted by hhc5 at 10:49 AM on August 29, 2008


English-only policies may be the sole bulwark against that huge cultural shift.

You realize that's really just another xenophobic argument.

Can anyone point out situations in the US where people can not get service from their government in English? If this situation was happening then English language laws might make sense, for reasons similar to those preached in Quebec. As it stands, i'm willing to bet you can go and get a drivers license in Miami without speaking Spanish. The fact that a Spanish speaking person might be able to do the same thing speaking Spanish really doesn't hurt anyone. In fact, it probably is a benefit to the community.

I've yet to meet a kid who grew up in Canada who doesn't speak English, regardless of where there parents were from, and the language their parents speak at home. These language law arguments are usually tired, lame, and always ever so slightly racist.
posted by chunking express at 11:57 AM on August 29, 2008 [1 favorite]


As opposed to places where many cultures mix and recognize English as a common language while also cherishing their native languages, what about specific places within the US where a single immigrant group has grown and developed an infrastructure of daily life so that its members need not ever learn English?

What if the melting pot theory no longer holds in face of a immigration tidal wave coming in one single direction. Yes, the Jews, Italians and Germans in the late 19th century and early 20th century were certain to assimilate, because to emerge from their small, non-self-sufficient ethnic enclaves, these immigrants needed to learn English. But what if that's no longer true, because Latinos have reached a critical mass? English-only policies may be the sole bulwark against that huge cultural shift.


These enclaves in which English was unnecessary have always existed, and have always been a criticism of the latest round of untrustworthy immigrants. Check out photos of the Lower East Side "back in the day" or visit your local Chinatown. The children of immigrants learn English ANYWAY. This is, in fact, especially true of Latinos.

The point I raised is that that a "national language" will do nothing to prevent ethnic enclaves, unless you suggest that no business owners are allowed to communicate in languages other than English, which is impractical, unenforceable, contrary to freedom of speech, xenophobic, and a host of other adjectives.
posted by desuetude at 12:39 PM on August 29, 2008


But is there someone who has data showing this? I would like to study them.


People are under the mistaken impression that immigrants now learn English at a much lower rate than they did back in the Good Old Days (turn of the last century).

Anecdatally, I can tell you that my grandmother's family, which arrived from Czechoslovakia sometime in the 1880s and settled in Chicago (and some in Iowa) moved into an extant Bohemiam neighborhood where they could work, shop, and socialize entirely in Czech if they wanted to. I don't know how quickly or proficiently her parents and older siblings (she was the youngest, and was born in the U.S.) learned English. I do remember that one of her older brothers still spoke with quite a heavy accent the one time I met him.

But you asked for studies.

English Usage Among Hispanics in the United States: The surveys show that fewer than one-in-four (23%) Latino immigrants reports being able to speak English very well. However, fully 88% of their U.S.-born adult children report that they speak English very well. Among later generations of Hispanic adults, the figure rises to 94%. Reading ability in English shows a similar trend.

The Children of Immigrants Longitudinal Study (CILS); from this (a digest of the report): The findings suggest that learning habits "will be no different than what has been the age-old pattern in American history," Portes and Rumbaut wrote in their study. "The grandchildren may learn a few foreign words and phrases as a quaint vestige of their ancestry, but they will most likely grow up speaking English only. It is for this reason that the United States has been called a 'language graveyard.'" Adds Portes, "It is a hard fact that it is the native language, not English, that is lost."

There is a "tacit understanding that true Americans are those whose speech is monolingual," Portes observed. "It's the 'social glue' argument." Because Americans have no common ethnic heritage, speaking English has helped define the culture. Ironically, he said, it is only after the native tongue is lost that learning a foreign language is considered the mark of an educated person.

On preview - des beat me to it.
posted by rtha at 12:44 PM on August 29, 2008 [1 favorite]


Bohemian, that is.
posted by rtha at 12:45 PM on August 29, 2008


*Bohemian fist-bumps rtha*
posted by desuetude at 2:49 PM on August 29, 2008


English-only policies may be the sole bulwark against that huge cultural shift.

You realize that's really just another xenophobic argument.


I realize that xenophobes make this argument, but I am not sure this is necessarily a xenophobic argument. Yes, ethnic enclaves have always existed -- I don't dispute that fact nor am disputing that they make New York City the capital of the world and a place I miss every day. And yes, the residents of ethnic enclaves have always learned English. But Miami is not an ethnic enclave. It does not consist of a few city blocks, like the Lower East Side. It is a city of 5.5 million people that has become the capital of Latin America, where Spanish-English bilingualism is expected.

When I alluded to a cultural shift, I was not referring to a shift to Latino culture. I was referring to a shift to Canadian culture, where bilingualism is both a de facto and de jure way of life.

Resistance to learning foreign languages is most certainly a particularly benighted form of American exceptualism, but I do not think it is necessarily xenophobic or racist.
posted by hhc5 at 8:54 AM on August 30, 2008


Its a COST issue. It is too EXPENSIVE to have a multilingual government. SAVE THE MONEY, spend it on public safety. Government has a finite amount of money.

Its a LEGAL problem. Should the law mandate accommodation or not?

Its a BENEFITS problem. Clearly, most citizens speak english. Why offer government in any other language? Certainly not for citizens. Who are paying for government. Back to COST.
posted by ewkpates at 3:46 AM on September 2, 2008


Clearly, most citizens speak english. Why offer government in any other language?

Because the government exists to serve ALL citizens? 'Most citizens' are not mentally ill, disabled, single parents, etc, but it is generally accepted that the government should offer specific help to these groups anyway.
posted by jacalata at 4:10 AM on September 2, 2008


jacalata - disingenuous. The small percentage of US citizens that need language support do no justify the millions it costs to hire multilingual federal employees across the nation and translate and print the thousands of government forms in dozens of languages.

It is not generally accepted that it is the government's role to help people. If we continue to see government as a solution to every problem, we will continue to have a government that does very little well and a very great cost.
posted by ewkpates at 5:49 AM on September 2, 2008


jacalata's point is not disingenuous at all. Tax dollars go to support ASL interpreters and special education and to those with disabilities, too. The cost of emergency services for fluent English speakers is also absorbed. Federal funds for research go toward inquiry into rare diseases. We avoid allowing poor people to starve in the streets, and children in dangerous situations are monitored. Falling outside of the majority doesn't lessen your status as a citizen.

If government services are helping someone else, it doesn't mean that you're being denied. Money taken out of the budget to print some forms in Spanish isn't going to be given to your police chief to post an officer on your block. That's not the way budgets for an entity as large as a country work.
posted by desuetude at 6:34 AM on September 2, 2008


1. The hearing impaired CAN'T FREAKIN HEAR. There is no way they can meet the requirement. If you are going to pass a US Citizenship test, English can be part of the requirement. Sweden, for example, requires a language proficiency as part of citizenship.

2. If government services are helping someone else, it means they aren't helping me. I'm not sure what your experience of taxes and government is, or if you've ever taken the time to review the congressional budget process, but I can assure you: you get funding only at the cost of someone else losing it.

Its a no brainer that makes me suspicious of your whole perspective. Tax dollars and federal funding is a zero sum game. Sure, we can raise taxes, but that is neither desirable nor a long term solution.

"There's plenty of money for all the government programs we want" is EXACTLY the problem here. When we don't have safe streets, having portuguese translators on standby is ridiculous. So, I say make citizens learn english, and then use that money to reduce the likelyhood that they'll be mugged, raped, or murdered. Sounds like a good deal to me.
posted by ewkpates at 8:06 AM on September 2, 2008


ewkpates, maybe you can push for English only immigration. Then you wouldn't need to mandate any sort of 'learn English' laws, which, has been pointed out above, are likely not going to work too well. (How do you 'make' anyone learn a language if they aren't inclined to do so?) Australia did this for about 70 odd years. You could also work to deport people who weren't 'melting' into the melting pot fast enough. There are much better ways to homogenize a society than English only laws.
posted by chunking express at 8:50 AM on September 2, 2008


2. If government services are helping someone else, it means they aren't helping me.

Asinine point.

Government money (my money!) goes for all kinds of shit I don't like - tax breaks for gabillion dollar corporations, bombs, etc. Arguing that "I don't need it/want it/like it so I don't want to pay for it" - well, I guess it's an honorable tradition in this country, but it still doesn't make it a good argument.

Government services assist physically and mentally disabled people live at least semi-independent lives. I am not physically or mentally disabled, and don't need those services. I suppose you could argue that the money the government spends on helping folks with those needs could be spent instead on helping ME with MY SPECIAL SNOwFLAKE needs - better road repair, more money for public transport, etc.

But it's not a zero-sum game. By placing ads in Spanish that tell where to get your kid vaccinated on bus shelters, for instance, the health department helps ensure people - citizens and noncitizens - can get their kids vaccinated against diseases that neither you nor your kids want. These ads also appear in English!

By printing ballots in more languages than English, the government assures that ALL citizens, including those with a less than perfect command of English, can participate in their governments.

Are you really - really? - going to continue arguing that government services are only for citizens?

Also, "Applicants for naturalization must be able to read, write, speak, and understand words in ordinary usage in the English language." There are various exceptions - including mental and physical disability, so I guess deaf people can become citizens! Yay!
posted by rtha at 8:52 AM on September 2, 2008


If government services are helping someone else, it means they aren't helping me.

Also, this is definitely not true. Social services are a boon to other people they directly effect, but can also have a positive outcome on society as a whole. You pay for kids to go to school, even though you may not have any children yourself. This helps you, in that when these kids grow up they aren't dumbasses and can get good jobs and pay taxes and do all sorts of things to support your ass when you're too old to be useful. Or maybe these kids learn valuable life lessons, and they don't mug rap and kill you when you're walking your dog one morning. etc.

You might not take the bus, but subsidizing public transportation probably helps society in that people who couldn't get to work otherwise can, and therefore end up paying taxes and doing all sorts of useful things.
posted by chunking express at 8:54 AM on September 2, 2008


The hearing impaired CAN'T FREAKIN HEAR. There is no way they can meet the requirement.

In fact, ASL is not the same language as English. It's a separate natural language with distinct grammar, syntax, semantics, etc. It does borrow words from English (for fingerspelling), but of course many foreign languages borrow foreign words, especially those in multilingual societies.

2. If government services are helping someone else, it means they aren't helping me. I'm not sure what your experience of taxes and government is, or if you've ever taken the time to review the congressional budget process, but I can assure you: you get funding only at the cost of someone else losing it

When we don't have safe streets, having portuguese translators on standby is ridiculous. So, I say make citizens learn english, and then use that money to reduce the likelyhood that they'll be mugged, raped, or murdered. Sounds like a good deal to me.


The federal government's printing costs are directly affecting your neighborhood police budget how? Perhaps you're conflating local and federal law? If you feel so strongly that accommodation of those not fluent in English has threatened your safety due to budgetary concerns, you should push for English-only laws in your particular city/county/state, which would perhaps directly affect the safety of your streets.

Who pays for "making" these residents learn English? How confident are you that this will correlate to lower crime, and even so, how on earth would you demonstrate causation -- very noisy data, these.

Oh, and for what it's worth, I'm pretty familiar with (though not an expert on) the congressional budget process for a number of reasons, not the least of which is that it has an enormous indirect impact on my job; the organization for which I work has expanded research funding indicatives due to the changing nature/funding line of federal research grants.
posted by desuetude at 9:44 AM on September 2, 2008 [1 favorite]


Given any tax rate, there is a limited amount of money that the Fed can collect (and provide in grants to states) and a limited amount of money that States can collect, and these two amounts play off each other. TAXATION is a ZERO SUM GAME. Stop pretending that there infinite money pot for federal, state, and local governments. All this money comes from the same place: the tax payer.

What about Taxation - Zero Sum Game - is difficult to grasp?

Why does anyone have to pay for people to learn English? Why is that a federal mandate?
posted by ewkpates at 8:20 AM on September 3, 2008


I'm not "pretending" anything . You keep saying TAXATION ZERO SUM GAME in all caps as if this is the answer to the question (which is "what are the arguments for and against a constitutional amendment implementing national language") while disregarding questions posed in response to your argument, but I'm genuinely interested in your answers. Your main argument for is that it's financially irresponsible to accommodate a multitude of languages. See questions regarding definition and enforcement above.

My arguments against include the following: A federal regulation cannot prevent people from speaking in their native language without being a gross violation of the rest of constitutional rights; implementation of English-only policies is an impractical hardship for refugees and the elderly upon arrival; public health is better served through more communication outreach, not less; it sets an unappealing precedent for majority-only policies and in fact could hinder accommodations for communication with other minority groups (such as the deaf, disabled); and it's largely unnecessary because children of immigrants learn English for entirely practical reasons without the necessity of a mandate. Plus, such an amendment tramples on states' rights.
posted by desuetude at 9:01 AM on September 3, 2008 [4 favorites]


[this thread is becoming an argument that really needs to go to email or metatalk, please do not continue this back and forth in this thread, thank you]
posted by jessamyn at 9:05 AM on September 3, 2008


Thanks to everyone for the responses in this thread.
posted by netbros at 10:51 AM on September 4, 2008


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