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Language In The United States

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Language has been a political and an emotional struggle for many people since the early 1750’s. British settlers in the 1750s felt threatened by German settlers moving into Pennsylvania who did not speak English. In 1780, John Adams attempted to have English declared the official language of The United States of America. Adams was not successful in his endeavors. Congress has opposed having an official language since John Adams first approached them. At least once a year since 1981, Congress has rejected a bill making English the country’s official language. Even though congress has rejected a bill at least once a year requesting English as the official language, currently the United States of America is not among the countries with an official language. However, several states have adopted English as the official language for the state. English has had quite an impact on the world through television and the internet. The United States of America does not need an official language.

As early as the 1750’s, language was not only a political issue but also an emotional one. The British settlers of Pennsylvania became upset when more immigrants speaking German started moving into the area. The British settlers began fearing and resenting the fact that a third of their fellow Pennsylvanians were German speakers. In 1795, a proposal was presented to congress to have federal laws printed in German as well as English. Some feared that the proposal was to have German as the official language of the United States. The proposal was denied by one vote. (Baron, 2005)

The second President of the United States of America, John Adams in 1780, approached the Continental Congress requesting an official academy be created to “purify, develop, and dictate usage of,” English. According to the American Civic Liberties Union (ACLU) congress denied, Adams’ proposal. Adams’ academy would have dictated the proper grammar, spelling, and vocabulary in the United States. This would also have made English the national language of the United States. (U.S. para 3) Congress had rejected John Adams’ proposal as undemocratic and a threat to individual liberty. Even though congress denied Adams’ proposal in 1780, since the late nineteenth century restrictive laws have been enacted the majority of the time in answer to large numbers of immigrants coming into the country. (ACLU 2008)

May 18, 2006, the Senate voted to designate English as the official language of the United States. The Senate approved an amendment proposed by Senator James M. Inhofe, Republican of Oklahoma. The amendment would make English the national language. Senator Lamar Alexander, Republican of Tennessee said, “We’re free to say what we want, speak what we want, but it is our national language.” Senator Ken Salazar, Democrat from Colorado, proposed a second amendment. He said, “The Inhofe measure was needlessly divisive and would reduce multilingual government programs.” Senator Harry Reid, Democratic leader of Nevada said, “The Inhofe amendment was racist.” Reid said, “Everybody who speaks with an accent knows that they need to learn English as fast as they can.” The proposal states, that no one has “a right, entitlement or claim to have the government of the United States or any of its officials or representatives act, communicate, perform or provide services or provide materials in any language other than English.” Senator Inhofe said, “the critics were exaggerating the potential problems of his plan.” The Senate has passed the proposal the House had not voted on it yet in 2006, it had been “shelved”. (Hulse, 2006)

In the 1980’s people started encountering a linguistic diversity in their daily lives. Due to this difference in languages that were introduced into society; the politicians once again approached congress with a bill to have English declared the United States official language. The federal government debated making English the official language of the country. Since 1981, at least once a year a version of the bill making English the official language is introduced into congress. Generally, the bill is referred to committee and does not go anywhere, it is “shelved”. Immigrants have seen much resentment. People do not think of the immigrants “blending” in as Americans. They tend to forget the “melting pot” is what makes all the people Americans. Immigrants are learning the English language much quicker now than the earlier generations did. (Rice, 2005)

The United States of America is not among the countries courting an official language. Having English as the country’s official language would put an end to having more than one language printed on government documents and street signs. This could also end foreign languages taught in public schools. According to Hulse, people fear having an official language for the United States would lead to government agencies cutting back on their bilingual efforts, cause discrimination against people who do not speak English, disrupt emergency operations in communities with populations of immigrants as well as other consequences. The director of the immigrant justice project, Mary Bauer, speaks her concerns about having English as the national language. Bauer believes immigrants who do not speak English are the potential targets for unfair housing charges or unfair treatment by their employers. Bauer said, “the immigrants who participate in the existing guest worker programs are frequently exploited.” (Hulse, 2006)

The United States is the original “melting pot” of different languages. Today there are several languages spoken other than English in the United States as either the primary language or the secondary language. The most common languages spoken are Spanish, French, Chinese, German, Tagalog, Vietnamese, Italian, Korean and Russian. According to the 2000 census report, nine out of every ten people from age five and up spoke a language other than English. (Bergman, 2000) President Bush said during his trip to Arizona in 2006. “If you learn English, and you’re a hard worker, and you have a dream, you have the capacity from going from picking the crops to owning the store, or from sweeping office floors to being an office manager.” (Hulse, 2006)

Several states have adopted English as their official language. The states set their own language policies. On the state level, the issue is placed on the ballot for the people to be heard on the issue. The voters decide



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