Language has always been a controversal issue in America. With the recent influx of non-English speaking immigrants into America primarily from Mexico the issue of language is taking more and more of a centerstage in American society. This paper will illustrate and define what English as the official language of the United States would mean to Americans. I provide two solid arguments against incorporation of such a policy. Firstly, from a cultural perspective it would be unfair and unjust to legally impose English upon Non English speakers. Secondly, to incorporate English as the official language of the United States properly would require a federal institution presumably a National American Academy of the English Language or something similar to the to oversea what “English” is that would be similar to France’s “Academie Francaise”. I will illustrate how and why such an institution would not be in the best interest of Americans.
It is believed that the modern English as the Official Language movement is linked to former US Senator S. I. Hayakawa of California. In 1981, he introduced a Constitutional Amendment which would do precisely that (Ricento, 1995). The Constitutional Amendment proposed read as follows:
Section 1. The English language shall be the official language of the United States.
Section 2. Neither the United States nor any State shall make or enforce any law which requires the use of any language other than English.
Section 3. This article shall apply to laws, ordinances, regulations, orders, programs, and policies.
Section 4. No order or decree shall be issued by any court of the United States or of any State requiring that any proceedings, or matters to which this article applies be in any language other than English.
Section 5. This article shall not prohibit educational instruction in a language other than English as required as a transitional method of making students who use a language other than English proficient in English.
Section 6. The Congress and the States shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation (97th Congress)
On the surface several of these clauses do not seem so radical. Section 5 of this proposed Constitutional Amendment even could be percieved to allow for bilingual education. Sections 1 and 2 I shall discuss later on.
From a political and legal perspective, Section 4 could be seen as troubling by taking powers away from the courts. What if a non-speaking defendant at a trial wanted to try to express his wishes to a judge. Would such a clause interfere at all with the non-speaking defandant obtaining a linguist to help translate? I believe it could. Section 6 could be percieved as problematic in regards to a system of federalism.
If enacted Section 3 could serve as a potential problem to cultural identity. How does one exactly define “laws, ordinances, regulations, orders, programs, and policies”? If Congress passes a regulation requiring all signs on stores for instance to be in English, a store in a heavily spanish speaking neighborhood would be forced to put their signs in English. I believe it would be very wrong to do that. If in the hypothetical example the signs were in Spanish it would be more than likely because there was a need to fill.
Such hypothetical legislation also would bring up an interesting nitpicky point. What if signs were in English but misspelt? Would it technically still be considered English?
How exactly would it be enforced? Could it be enforced? Would people who defied it be subject to fines? If it cannot be enforced is it worth passing? The answer is that it could not be enforced effectively without putting government resources and a government apparatus toward it.
This segways into my next major point. English as the “Official Language” brings up an interesting question. What exactly is English? Who exactly determines what English is and what English is not? English in America is different than English in Canada and Great Britain. Even within the United States itself there are vastly different dialects which continue to expand with the advent of things such as Spanglish and Ebonics.
The only logical way to determine it would be a National Academy of English. I believe such an institution would be a mistake for many reasons. Namely it would not only infer that there was a “right English” and a “wrong English” but it would claim also to know which was which.
Regardless of how many experts on the field it would be able to recieve there would always be dissenting opinions. This would more than likely make it an unpopular institution.
In conclusion, I believe that culturally and realistically it is unjustifible and unreasonable to enact English as the “official language of the United States”. From a cultural perspective, doing so would further alienate non-speakers from speakers. From a practical perspective, doing so would logically require an unpopular (and critics would probably more than likely charge) unqualified institution that would require the backing of at least the Federal Government of the United States.