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Friday, August 12, 2022

Columns

Making English the standard


There are 46 countries that claim English as their official language and, surprisingly, the US is not one of them.

The US has no official language. In fact, agencies that receive federal money are required by law to provide services in other languages when asked.

On Aug. 11, 2000, President Bill Clinton signed Executive Order 13166, “Improving Access to Services for Persons with Limited English Proficiency.”

The order requires federal agencies to examine the services they provide, identify any need for services to those with limited English proficiency (LEP), and develop and implement systems to provide those services so LEP persons can have meaningful access to them. For example, if someone goes to a federal agency and speaks only Chinese the agency must be able to provide services in that language.

When people around the world decide to learn English, they have a choice between learning American English and British English.

For a country to be one of the sources of grammar and spelling, it’s a wonder why the US has not made English its official language. Advocates of the status quo claim that the US is a melting pot of cultures and languages, and that codifying English would disenfranchise millions of voters. They make it seem as if people are incapable of learning another language.

Recently in Texas, there was a man who testified in front of the state legislature in Spanish. He was testifying against the Stronger Economy, Stronger Borders Act of 2009 — an anti-immigrant bill similar to the one in Arizona — and Sen. Chris Harris told him the very act was “insulting to (Texas).” Rational voices dissented and defended the man, claiming he had every right to speak whatever language he wanted to under the First Amendment.

The US is a melting pot nation; making English the official language wouldn’t change this fact.

Actually, to acquire United States citizenship one must prove to have an understanding of the English language, including an ability to read, write and speak simple words and phrases.

Only those who are deemed too “old” to learn a new language are exempt from taking the English test. They must still take the civics test, however, which can be taken in their native language.

As someone who is bilingual in Texas, I can say that at times it is surprising how some remain defiant to learning English. No one expects complete fluency, but I’ve been witness to some surprising situations.

I’ve seen Latinos speak in Spanish to blonde-haired and blue-eyed waitresses, expecting comprehension.

The worst part is that they do not begin by asking the well-mannered “Do you speak Spanish?” question but begin in their native tongue. It is rather insulting to go to another country to reside there permanently and never learn the language.

I believe there are no people who would migrate to the United States expecting to hear something other than English. Having a national language would unite the American identity and prevent the “us vs. them” mentality that is visible in Texas.

There are “cliques” between those who speak the same language, which in turn creates tension. Texas, and the nation, would be united by one simple factor: A common language.

Alejandro Caballero is a creative writing junior and may be reached at [email protected]

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