Should English be the official language of the United States?

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Should English be the official language of
the United States? [Electric Static] [Laser Sound] This question has history stretching all the
way back to the beginning of the nation, so I can’t give simple yay or nay answer. I can however, explain the some main arguments
English-Only proponents use, tell you why I don’t like them, and give historical evidence
to back up my claims. But I want to make clear that these arguments
have overlapping ideological roots and everyone along the ideological spectrum believes at
least one English-Only argument, because they are compelling. However, a compelling idea doesn’t make
it rational, As we will see with this first argument. Argument #1: The “Social Glue” argument. This argument posits that if everyone learns
English, it will create a common bond allowing people to transcend differences and reach
true understanding. This sounds rather appealing at first glance. If the world adopted a universal language
then no conflict would exist, right? Weeel this argument falls apart quickly for
two reasons; firstly, it just doesn’t reflect reality. For example let’s examine the story anthropologist
Michael Agar recounts in his book Language Shock: One Friday afternoon, I went to a faculty
reception. I met a colleague whom I’d corresponded and
talked on the phone with, but never met in person. She’d helped me out, a lot, by sending me
some bibliographies and course outlines from her field. She’d handed me a shortcut into the way things
of mutual interest looked from a different discipline’s point of view. When I finally met her, I thanked her and
said something like “The least I can do is buy you a drink.” She snapped to attention and said, rather
sharply, “I can pay for my own drink.” I explained that I’d have made the same offer
to any colleague who’d helped me out, male or female, or any other variation on the theme. I guess you could say that she just didn’t
understand. But, in this case, we both did. This vignette demonstrates two linguistic
phenomenon intersecting: Hybrid utterances and Linguistic relativity. As Mikhail Bakhtin defines it, a hybrid utterance
has one speaker, but multiple voices. Linguistic relativity posits that language
shapes thought. The utterance Agar uses sounds like a man
using a pick up line at a bar, and his co-worker hears that voice which shapes her thoughts,
and turns an innocuous phrase into an unwanted advance. To sum up, language doesn’t exist in a vacuum,
meaning comes from use, and to assume that adopting one language will fix all communication
problems disregards language’s multifacetedness. The social glue argument further bothers me
because people often used it as a political smokescreen to mask economic interests or racial discrimination. In the 1700’s, droves of German immigrants
moved to Pennsylvania spread out among the colonies, and eventually comprised one-third
of the population. Benjamin Franklin noticed this and got worried. He passed out pamphlets warning that German
settlers refused to learn English and would “[Make it] almost impossible to remove any
prejudices [the Germans] entertained.” Franklin even set up English-only schools
to help Germans learn English and remove prejudices. [No audio] Or so he would have you believe. In actuality, Franklin pushed the English-Only
mentality so far because he sold German newspapers and feared losing that business to better
qualified German printers. Franklin only advocated for bilingualism after
the American Revolution, when the large German population opposed a centralized government
like he did. Both times Franklin used linguistic politics
for personal gain. For a more contemporary example, in 1996,
the Oakland school district passed a resolution advocating that schools teach Ebonics, or
African American Vernacular English, to the African-American Students as it’s own separate
language; akin to Spanish for Latinx people or Indigenous languages for Native Americans. This faced immense backlash from all sides.
Jesse Jackson called it “an unacceptable surrender, borderlining on disgrace,” and
Maya Angelou expressed concerns that teaching AAVE would prevent students from learning
standard English. Eventually the Oakland school board amended
the resolution, saying that teachers will use AAVEE to help students learn standardized
English. In my humble opinion, the initial resolution
had no problems. AAVEE has enough linguistic differences to
make it wholly distinct from standard English. Like the habitual continuative use of the verb
to be in phrases like “he be working on Saturdays,” or negation in the phrase “I
ain’t afraid of no ghosts.” AAVE and Standard English work equally well
as forms of communication. “Oh Omar, you liberal bleeding heart academic,
I wouldn’t want my kids learning AAVE because it just isn’t the correct way to speak.” Well that’s a purely subjective opinion,
if you think that AAVE can’t communicate complex concepts then, I refer you to Wisecrack’s
Thug Notes series, where Sparky Sweets, PhD gives you the literary lowdown in the Afro-est
of vernaculars. Sparky Sweets: Check this motif, son: dreams
vs reality. Gatsby has this big ass delusion about the
future with this bitch Daisy. Gatsby be thinking that you can repeat the
past, but my brother be straight trippin’. Cause on the real, ain’t nobody can recover
past time. Omar: This Social glue argument masks as an
argument for equality when really it’s a means of social control. Everyone should speak English, but only the
type of English that is “proper,” or “good,” or “white” It goes far beyond the simplistic
“immigrants should learn English” sound bite we often hear. Speaking of which… Argument #2: The “Lazy Immigrant” argument.
The argument suggests that the U.S must have English as an Official language, because
without it, immigrants won’t learn English. Media more so than any other entity constructs
this false narrative. Trump: We have to have assimilation, in order
to have a country, we have to have assimilation. I’m not the first one to say this Dana. We’ve had many people over the years, for
many many years saying the same thing: This is a country where we speak English, not Spanish. Soldier: [Mumbles]; English please. Wolverine: [Hits Japanese man] English! Toshi: [Speaking Japanese] [Slap] Snot: Learn English! [Smacks hand on Table] Learn! English! According to the 2014 National Survey of Latinos, 46% of Latinx People are bilingual. Now this study excludes undocumented and unregistered Latinx people, and I can’t extrapolate this data to ALL immigrants, but the largest U.S
immigrant population learns English alongside their native tongue, which should dispel this
lazy immigrant notion. Related to the lazy immigrant argument is
that ethnic leaders promote bilingualism to help their immigrant constituents get jobs,
and discriminate against the “natives.” In other words, reverse racism. We’ll discuss bilingualism at the end of
the video, but first let’s address the giant race-based elephant in the room. According to the 2015 Labor force characteristics by race and ethnicity report, white non-hispanics comprised five percent of unemployed people
while Hispanics made up six point six percent, the second highest rate behind blacks at nine
point six percent. I want to emphasize these numbers reflect
trends. Every region will have cities and states that
deviate, however the notion of immigrants coming into take our jobs and bring forth
a Spanish-Only regime seems a little far-fetched. But just so I cover all my bases… Argument #3: The “Linguistic Separatism” argument Our final argument suggests a multilingual
U.S. can’t function as a single political unit, and the ensuing hostility will divide
Americans. This sounds a lot like the social glue argument,
but instead of appealing to hopeful egalitarianism, the separatism argument capitalizes on fear
and mistrust regarding immigrants. During his presidency, Theodore Roosevelt
famously decreed that quote: “We have room for but one language in this country, and that
is the English language, for we intend to see that the crucible turns our people out
as Americans, of American nationality, and not as dwellers of a polyglot boarding house.” -End Quote Jeez, I can never look at a teddy bear the
same way again! I find the polyglot boarding house comment
particularly hilarious because it incorrectly assumes that if multilingualism exists, English
will die, or become some unintelligible linguistic frankenstein. In actuality, English has borrowed words from
many languages, Spanish and German included. Without borrowing, we wouldn’t have words
like vanilla or bodega, kindergarten or schadenfreude. Heck Coffee, one of the most American things,
has roots in Arabic! This idea of a pure unified language doesn’t
hold up to any empirical standard. And people loooove to use the Quebec separatist movement as vindication for Roosevelt’s ideology, but saying that “language differences”
drove most separatists, ignores more complex factors like ownership of land,
cultural and linguistic preservation, and sovereignty as a means to escape oppression. Ideologically, Quebec’s separatist movement isn’t THAT much different from the First Nations struggles in the U.S. and Canada. Conclusion
Hopefully I have shown why I think all English-Only arguments have no empirical basis. U.S. immigrants want to learn English, and
linguistic diversity doesn’t necessarily lead to separatist civil war. So why does the English-Only mentality still
persist? Well, every argument we went over uses language
as a shared metaphor for identity. For many English-Only advocates, language
makes us one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all. Multilingualism conflicts with this worldview
because it legitimizes other languages as equal to English which, angers some people
because we’re giving these “foreigners” “extra rights” they don’t deserve. But let me ask you this: If making even the
smallest concession to someone’s preferred language allows them to be more productive,
better members of society, isn’t that more just than forcing them to assimilate, and
isn’t it infinitely more liberating to have freedom of choice instead of monolithic decree? These are questions I’m going to leave you to answer for yourself. Thanks for watching and have a pleasant day. JOSH
Joey and I have been working on a counter argument to Alexis de Tocqueville. BARTLET
We’re having a fight with Alexis de Tocqueville? JOEY [KENNY]
Mr. President, please don’t get him started. JOSH
Joey, what say you to the position that with ethnic warfare spreading around
the globe, and in particularly in Eastern Europe, it’s
only a matter of time before it reaches our
shores, and making English the official language of the United States will
safeguard against the destruction of our national identity
and help us avoid ethnic strife? What
say you to that? [Pauses] [blows a big raspberry] [small pause] Josh: You see.. [Guitar Riff]

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