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English As The Official Language: Necessity Or Formality?

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Inglйs Como La Lengua Oficial: Ñ--necesidad o formalidad?

English As The Official Language: necessity or formality?

America is a nation that, from its founding, has had a distinguishing quality that no other country in the world shares. This quality has been the willingness to accept people of all different cultures as citizens of the country without forcing them to change who they are. How often have you seen the translations on the backs of shampoo bottles and instruction manuals and become annoyed? Why is it easily forgotten that at one time, all Americans were immigrants and natively spoke a different language? Cultures depend on their languages and customs to define them. But to what degree do the words you use define the person you are? This is a vital question in the intensely debated issue of making English the official language of the United States. Is this movement to distinguish English as the official national language only symbolic, or is it necessary? (Hudson 1).

In May of 2006, two amendments were proposed to a measure that had generated much controversy, declaring English as the official language of the United States of America (Ramos 1). The original bill was an immigrant reform bill that faintly declared English the official language of the United States ("Languages" 1). This law would not make it illegal to speak foreign languages, but would require all immigrants to learn English before becoming citizens and all government documents and transactions to be recorded in English ("English Only?" 1). The first amendment to this bill, proposed by Senator James Inhofe, formally declared English as the national language. The second amendment, proposed by Senator Ken Salazar, declared English as the "common and unifying language", instead of the "official national language." Ultimately, the original intentions of the bill did not change, and it passed with a vote of 58- 39 (Ramos 1). In the past, many endeavors have been made to achieve what this bill provides for, and each time controversy has been the companion. Numerous bills have been considered in Federal and State systems (Hudson 1). Those who support these proposals say this new bill steps in the right direction and will ultimately lead to eliminating the increasingly multilingual bureaucracy of the government of the United States (Ramos 1). Those in opposition to it, say the controversy this bill creates merely provides a distraction from the actual concern; providing language education to immigrants. The one idea both sides agree upon is that all immigrants should be taught English; the question is how to go about it (Bakker 1).

Although the United States has never had an official language; English has always been the "de facto" national language ("Languages" 1). According to the 2000 census bureau, eighty-two percent of Americans, which prospectively becomes two hundred and fifteen million, speak English in their homes, eleven percent, twenty- eight million, of Americans speak Spanish, and seven percent, nineteen million, speak an assortment of other languages. Additionally, only eight percent of all Americans cannot speak English at all ("English Only?" 2). Whether or not these citizens can fluently speak English, they are generally willing to learn, and more importantly, still American, and Americans have rights. Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont says, "In my experience, most new Americans want to learn our language and make efforts to do so as quickly as possible." (Leahy 1). Every citizen of the United States should learn to speak English as it provides a medium by which people of all different cultures can correspond, interact, and as a result live together peacefully; but they should not be forced to leave their heritage behind. This infringes on the rights of the non- English speaking Americans (Hudson 1). The public must recognize that each citizen deserves the right to celebrate their diversity. The government does not need to interfere with the form of the words that come out of people's mouths. In a country separated by prejudice and segregation, the law should provide a reminder that America is a varied people where differences are embraced, not ignored and erased. The process of making English the official national language could be the beginning of the end to the rights that American citizens have sacrificed for and taken great pride in protecting (Hudson 2).

In the battle over whether or not to proclaim an official national language, there exist several convincing arguments, both for and against. Certain activist groups have taken a firm stand and spent large quantities of money attempting to persuade one way or the other. "U.S. English" and "English First" are the leaders for those supporting the amendment. These groups use deceitful language to generate an emotional reaction in Americans, convincing them of the pertinence of making English the official language, to "preserve" our country and "routinely play on the fears of the English speaking population that they will soon find themselves at the mercy of foreigners," said Dennis Baron of the Yale University Press (Hudson 1). The English-only amendment amplifies the racially shaded myth that immigrants have no desire to learn the English language.

There are four National Hispanic Advocacy groups that represent the objection and see the amendment as "mean- spirited" legislation. Speaking English is the fastest way to succeed in America; English only legislation seems to be hindering, not helping, the learning process that needs to take place (Ramos 1).

The attempt of the majority of a nation or people, to enforce their traditions, including language, on the minority appears a recurring historical theme. The English language was believed to be more at risk while the constitution was being written than it is in present times. A mixture of diverse people, from many countries, of numerous different ethnic groups, speaking in countless unique tongues came to America. Hypothetically, the authors of the United States Constitution left out an official language clause intentionally, in hopes that along with the freedom of speech, immigrants would assimilate without force (Hudson 1). Supporters of the English only movement claim that America exists as a melting pot, where people come to lose their past and conform to a new culture. In actuality, each group of immigrants that come into America attempt to preserve their traditional culture as much as possible. Only when the class of immigrants becomes too large and intimidating, does preserving a heritage become frowned upon. For example, German immigrants established German schools, newspapers, churches, and shops, which became popular and

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