Tuesday, August 28, 2007

More Bitching Until I'm Red, White, and Blue in the Face


In my last post, I suggested language as a way to maintain national identity in a society celebrating diversity. I’ve recently posted my disdain for SMS and other lazy language trends. Words and language matter. I love words, hence, my blog name. Until we learn to harness any potential psychic communication, language is the main way we interact with others.

The argument has been made that there’s not an official language of the United States. True. However, I think there should be an official language and it should be English.

Let me share a few random incidents with you.

I have a friend, an attorney, who went to work for the prosecutor’s office in Houston. She was “strongly encouraged” to learn Spanish so she could do her job. In Houston. Houston, Texas. Houston, TX, USA.

I read a story about how a group of people waiting to have their day in traffic court had waited almost all day for that moment. After lunch, the bailiff requested that all non-English speaking defendants come to the front to be processed first because the translator would be leaving early.

Both of my children have worked at AutoZone. They were told that if they learned to speak Spanish, they’d earn an extra $2.00 an hour.

Even South Park has weighed in on the language/immigrant debate with their episode titled, “Goobacks.” Episode 806 addresses how an influx of immigrants changes the town. I’ll link to a synopsis of the story later.

In the mood for cheesesteak? At Geno’s Steaks in Philadelphia, the owner has posted a sign stating, "This Is AMERICA: WHEN ORDERING `SPEAK ENGLISH."'

The Fox News version of the story (from summer 2006) is here.
The MSNBC version is here.

Lawsuits have been threatened. Vento, the owner, has been accused of being a racist who doesn’t want “brown” people frequenting his place of business. Please, keep in mind that Vento’s grandparents struggled to learn English after arriving from Sicily in the 1920s. He understands discrimination and claims that’s not what he’s doing. He further said no customer had ever been turned away because of the policy and his employees are instructed to help those who don’t speak English learn to order their sandwich.

As a final anecdote, let me tell you about Palmira. Palmira was born in Nicaragua. She was proud of her heritage and retained her Nicaraguan citizenship even after marrying a United States Marine and moving to the United States with him. She had children here, children who by right of birth were U.S. citizens yet Palmira remained Nicaraguan. For over twenty years, she reared her children to appreciate and live with American values while still appreciating the heritage that came from both of their parents. My friend, Katia (who blogs at My Nerdy Thoughts but not nearly enough), is Palmira’s daughter. Katia followed in her father’s footsteps and became a U.S. Marine much to the understandable pride of both her parents. Still, Palmira retained her Nicaraguan citizenship.

More than twenty years after Palmira came to the United States, the political climate in Nicaragua changed. Palmira was ready to embrace being an American and applied for citizenship. When the day came that Palmira would officially become an American and share citizenship with her neighbors and children and husband, her family accompanied her at the courthouse. Not allowed to witness the ceremony, they waited outside the door. Afterwards, Palmira exited to join her family. She was crying. Her family, knowing how important this was to her, at first assumed the tears were of joy at what she’d done. They were wrong. Palmira’s tears were not of joy. She was upset.

The officials had offered to let her give the oath in Spanish.

I don’t have a problem with people earning more money because they’re bi- or multi-lingual. That’s awesome and I would love to be fluent in more than one language. I don’t think it should ever be required that someone in the U.S. be required to learn another language just to do their job unless, of course, that job is as a translator.

The language thing really chaps my ass. When is it going to stop? Sure, language evolves and I love that it does. I like the fact that Spanish and Greek and Italian and Asian and words from so many other languages have become a part of the English language. I don’t want to see signs in the courthouse written in a variety of languages. I don’t want to drive down the road and not be able to tell by the street signs if I’m in Juarez or Kansas. I don’t want to press one to speak English. I don’t want tech support to get pissed if I ask them to repeat themselves (slowly, please) because I had trouble understanding they hadn’t quite mastered the accent or language. If someone is going to take the naturalization oath and become a U.S. citizen, they should do it in English.

Since the argument “there’s no official language” is still out there, here’s my rebuttal:

If you want to live in America and become a citizen and benefit from the rights and privileges granted by the United States Constitution and Bill of Rights, then learn to speak the language in which they were written.

If you can’t be bothered to learn to speak the language, perhaps you don’t wish to be an American after all. More on that tomorrow…

On a lighter note, I thought the following cartoon was funny.


Lydia said...

But, what's wrong with a business owner attempting to better serve a market through offering bilingual service and signage? Should that be the business owner's decision? Why should it be frowned upon, when it's in the name of business and capitalism and all the rest?

I'm enjoying this series of posts, by the way.

Ima Wurdibitsch said...

There's not a darn thing wrong with it, Lydia. I think it's great and it absolutely should be the business owner's decision. I'm certainly not offended when I go out of the U.S. and see signs in English.

The problem (and evidenced in what happened to Mr. Vento at Geno's) is when people think they're entitled to having everything written/printed in a language other than English.

People were threatening to sue Mr. Vento. While I'm not certain how all of that was resolved (I'll try to find out), many people thought the lawsuits would be successful.

According to yourdictionary.com, there are 6,800 known languages spoken in the 200 countries of the world. 2,261 have writing systems (the others are only spoken). Let's say we only focused on the written languages. Wouldn't a requirement to be multi-lingual put an undue burden on the business owner? Who would decide which languages would be required? Wouldn't those people who didn't have their native tongue chosen as one of the languages feel discriminated against?

If every business owner in the country wanted to hire multi-lingual employees and post multi-lingual signage, more power to them. It's just that when government starts legislating requirements for bi- or multi-lingual service, we have a big problem. Okay, I have a big problem. I especially have a problem when that requirement for multi-lingual signage exists in goverment buildings. Damn it, those are my tax dollars, too. I'd like to see an end to misspelled words on public signs and an increase in intelligent public officials. It would be nice if they could get a better grip on English grammar before they start promoting required multilingualism.

Great question and I'm glad you brought it up. And thank you, I'm enjoying writing it.

MrWurdi said...

“Signed into law on July 26 1990, the Americans with Disabilities Act is a wide-ranging legislation intended to make American Society more accessible to people with disabilities.” (http://www.jan.wvu.edu/links/adasummary.htm)

With this legislation the Justice Department had taken it upon themselves to create and make into law the proper and legal way to provide accommodations for “Americans with Disabilities” hence ADA. And they did all of this (in the beginning) as independent agency with little or no research into other standards and establish rules, guidelines, building codes, and laws. It covers everything from the size of doors, degree of ramps, insulation under the sinks, to the type of fire alarm horns and strobes.

The wording of the ADA covers every conceivable area that might have impact upon a person with disabilities. And makes statements within the ADA documents as to who is disabled:

“The ADA's protection applies primarily, but not exclusively, to "disabled" individuals. An individual is "disabled" if he or she meets at least any one of the following tests:
1. He or she has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more of his/her major life activities;
2. He or she has a record of such an impairment; or
3. He or she is regarded as having such an impairment.”

So with this being said, if I regard someone as being disabled because of their “inability” to speak English, then I am required by law to make accommodations for their disability. Although the intent was just and well-meaning, this one piece of legislation has such far and wide implications that I tremble at even putting such thoughts on the printed page.
While the provisions of the ADA apply to employers of fifteen employees or more, its public accommodations provisions apply to all sizes of business, regardless of number of employees. State and local governments are covered regardless of size. The cost on each and every business opening it doors since July 26 1990, has been passed onto each and every one of us, and still does to this day. So today, if we make English our “official” language I fear, by law, we would have to provide translators, signage, and many other accommodations to, yes, each and every person in this country who can’t speak English. Failure to do so could make each of those people have legal grounds to file a lawsuit. Guess who would ultimately pay the price of these accommodations?
We have created a giant, in our efforts to be fair and just to every person in America. And we are no longer in control of our monster; we gave it the string that we dance to.

The following disclaimer is to limit my personal liability in case my words may have insulted, or otherwise unduly upset anyone who might have read said words: Let it be known I have not authorized any of the preceding to be translated into alternate languages. And furthermore, I do not take any responsibility for potential incorrect translations causing my words to have unintended, or offensive meaning.”
Please, don’t misinterpret any of my words or comments to indicate that I don’t want to help or see assistance given for a disabled person. The real question is what is the true definition of disabled?

MrWurdi said...

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) link didn't appear correctly. Here it is:

ADA Summary.

Anonymous said...

When I announced my candidacy for president, one of my platforms was "English as the official language." The post is entitled "State of the Squid Address":

Ima Wurdibitsch said...

What a perfect blogger name, Squid Vicious! Thanks for the comment and I'll be sure to check out the State of the Squid Address.