16 June 2006

Another Brilliant English-Only Advocate

Note from the LuapHacim, 11/14/2012: The views expressed in this post do not necessarily reflect my current beliefs and convictions. Even if they do, I would almost certainly express them in different words today. Time changes people, and I am not exempt. Nonetheless, because of its historical value, I will not modify or remove this post. It tells you (and me) something important about where I've been. Read on at your own peril.

From the second letter to the editor:

My lunch salad from McDonald's came with an exercise DVD in English and Spanish. Both the salad and the video are needed by me and many others. But the bilingual approach got me to thinking.

I am bilingual. As an eighth-grader, I was enrolled as the only American in a German school. I was put in the seventh grade. For the first semester I was not graded. Thereafter, I was graded with my peers.

After the first semester, a few accommodations continued with decreasing need. In the English class, I was asked to translate into German, in German literature, I was asked to translate into English. I became fluent in German. The importance of this is that I learned to think in German.

Each language and culture is unique. To understand each you need not only the understanding of the culture and the context in which it evolves but to be able to think in the language.

Since the beginning of time, people have come to this continent from all parts of the world bringing their cultures and languages. As the United States was taking form, many of those involved were multilingual, including the ancient languages.

The founders created the documents of this nation in English. All who live here and all who wish to become citizens should be required to be fluent in English, to be able to speak correct English and to be able to think in English.

Translations, no matter how good, lose something in meaning and tone and understanding. The recent translation of "The Star Spangled Banner" is an example.

The documents that are the basis for this democracy are all in English. Being able to read and think in English are crucial to understanding all of these. Crucial to understanding the meaning of being a citizen of the United States.

Donna Jewel, Topeka
Yes, and being able to write in English are important, too. Important to make you look like not an idiot. And knowing how to not write fragments. Of sentences, or using comma splices.

The fact that her name is Donna provides her with some excuse. Since the beginning of time, women named Donna have had a long and rich history of writing like donkeys, probably because their names sound so similar. Sadly, though, Donna's grammatical mistakes is the least of her problems. (hehe -- ok, no more mockery of writing.)

The thing that frustrates me the most about this letter is how it reifies culture while simultaneously recognizing that culture shifts with time and new impulses. Her main argument seems to be that Latinos need to stop using Spanish as their primary language. Why? Because we speak English and our legal documents are all in English.

The problem is that she discusses earlier (no doubt in an effort to show her abundant open-mindedness) how, "since the beginning of time" (wahtever that means), new languages and cultures have constantly displaced older ones (which is true -- innovation in language and culture are more or less constant in human experience). Then, she turns around and pretends that, because of some things some dead white people wrote more than two centuries ago, the government should make an effort to stop Spanish from becoming an acceptable primary language for U.S. citizens. It seems as if this effort would be more or less unnatural, according to what she wrote earlier in the letter.

Almost as troubling to me is what she means by "speak correct English." I know a man born in Chihuahua who taught himself English in between stocking the shelves of an Atlanta hardware store. He speaks with a thick accent and is more comfortable in Spanish than in English, but he would never make a mistake like "Being able to read and think in English are crucial to understanding all of these."

And I can't even describe the offensiveness of her assertion that liberal principles like freedom, justice, and individual rights cannot be expressed in Spanish. Has she never heard of Che Guevara or Simon Bolivar?

OK, I could go on and on about this, but I've been neglecting my wifey, so I'm out for now.

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