Early Americans were worried about German!
John Adams weighs in
Is Spanish a Threat to American English?
— Ban it Instead...
A version of this tongue-in-cheek Dennis Baron essay appeared in The Washington Post on Sept. 8, 1996 as, “Lingua Blanka—Let’s Be Done with the Poor Old Mother Tongue.”
On August 1st, 1996, the House of Representatives passed legislation making English the official language of the United States. Supporters of the measure say that English forms the glue that keeps America together. They deplore the dollars wasted translating English into other languages. And they fear a horde of illegal aliens adamantly refusing to acquire the most powerful language on earth.
On the other hand, opponents of official English remind us that without legislation we have managed to get over ninety-seven percent of the residents of this country to speak the national language. No country with an official language law even comes close. Opponents also point out that today’s non-English-speaking immigrants are picking up English faster than earlier generations of immigrants did, so instead of official English, they favor “English Plus,” encouraging everyone to speak both English and another language.
I would like to offer a modest proposal to resolve the language impasse in Congress. Don’t make English official, ban it instead.
Proposals to ban English first surfaced shortly after the American Revolution
Even if the British are now our allies, there may be some benefit to banning English today. A common language can often be the cause of strife and misunderstanding. Look at Ireland and Northern Ireland, the two Koreas, or the Union and the Confederacy. Banning English would prevent that kind of divisiveness in America today.
Also, if we banned English, we wouldn’t have to worry about whose English to make official: the English of England or America? of Chicago or New York? of Ross Perot or William F. Buckley?
We might as well ban English …no one seems to read it much lately
The French have banned English, so we should too. After all, they are so rational they must know something we don’t.
More important, we should ban English because it has become a world language. Remember what happened to all the other world languages: Latin, Greek, Indo-European? One day they’re on everybody’s tongue; the next day they’re dead. Banning English now would save us that inevitable disappointment.
Although we shouldn’t ban English without designating a replacement for it, there is no obvious candidate. The French blew their chance when they sold Louisiana. It doesn’t look like the Russians are going to take over this country any time soon — they’re having enough trouble taking over Russia. German, the largest minority language in the U. S. until recently, lost much of its prestige after two world wars. Chinese is too hard to write, especially if you’re not Chinese.
There’s always Esperanto, a language made up a hundred years ago that is supposed to bring about world unity. We’re still waiting for that. And if you took Spanish in high school you can see that it’s not easy to get large numbers of people to speak another language fluently.
In the end, though, it doesn’t matter what replacement language we
pick, just so long as we ban English instead of making it official.
Prohibiting English will do for the language what Prohibition did for
liquor. Those who already use it will continue to do so, and those who
don’t will want to try out what has been forbidden. This negative
psychology works with children. It works with speed limits. It even
worked in the Garden of Eden.
William and Flora Hewlett
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