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Behind the Headlines: APA News Blog

Academic Version: Applying my personal experiences and academic research as a professor of Sociology and Asian American Studies to provide a more complete understanding of political, economic, and cultural issues and current events related to American race relations, and Asia/Asian America in particular.

Plain English: Trying to put my Ph.D. to good use.

May 23, 2006

Written by C.N.

U.S.’s National Language: English

This past Thursday, the Senate voted to declare English as the “National Language” of the U.S.:

The Senate first voted 63-34 to make English the national language after lawmakers who led the effort said it would promote national unity. But critics argued the move would prevent limited English speakers from getting language assistance required by an executive order enacted under President Clinton.

So the Senate also voted 58-39 to make English the nation’s “common and unifying language.” . . . “We are trying to make an assimilation statement,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C. . . . Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., disputed charges that making English the national language was racist or aimed at Spanish speakers. Eleven Democrats voted for his measure.

I suppose this particular piece of legislation is different from previous “Official English” campaigns that would have forbidden government agencies from conducting any aspect of official government business in any other language besides English (i.e., government translators, official documents, voting information, etc.). So on the one hand, there does not appear to be any change in official government policy as a result.

Nonetheless, I am still disappointed that the anti-foreigner (legal and illegal) sentiment that seems to be increasing pervasive in our society continues to gain momentum. Supporters of this legislation will argue that rather than discriminating against non-English speakers, the intention here is to promote assimilation and a common culture.

However, the implicit belief behind official statements like this is that all other languages and national cultures are inherently inferior to American culture and American English. In other words, it is nothing more than another attempt to force a normative standard of what it traditionally means to be an “American” onto others, and that traditional image is implicitly White, Christian, and English-speaking.

The fact is, most immigrants already speak English rather well. Sure, some newer immigrants (particular those who may be illegal immigrants) may not, but they know that in order for them to become successful in American society in any meaningful way, they will need to learn English. Being told that their ancestral language is not welcomed in the U.S. is nothing short of a government-sanctioned slap in the face.

In other words, this is another sign of the growing the backlash against multiculturalism, multilingualism, and racial/ethnic diversity in American society. When any group is power — in this case Whites — begins to feel threatened, moves such as this are inevitable as they try to reassert their cultural power and dominance. Sad to see, but not entirely unexpected.


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Copyright © 2001- by C.N. Le. Some rights reserved. Creative Commons License

Suggested reference: Le, C.N. . "U.S.’s National Language: English" Asian-Nation: The Landscape of Asian America. <http://www.asian-nation.org/headlines/2006/05/uss-national-language-english/> ().

Short URL: http://www.asian-nation.org/headlines/?p=255