A place for philosophical/political ideas to stew.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Official Languages

People often propose making English the official language of the United States. Even discounting the many different varieties of English, this is an awful proposal. Laws that are like this are either useless, or racist.

First, let's consider what this would mean. The weak version is that all official documents have to be at least in English. I must ask the question, why? What good will be gained from this? All government documents are already in English, so the only place this would apply is in contracts (and personally, I'm not sure if contracts in different languages would be enforced). But contracts are a matter of civil courts, and thus, not strictly law-enforced. Besides, if two people want a contract in Spanish, why shouldn't they get one? This is the useless version.

A stronger version is that official documents should not be in a language other than English. And same for store signs, etc. Now, suppose that for some reason or another, 90% of the population now spoke Spanish, or some language other than English, as their first language. This would seem like a pretty silly law. This also applies to the first weaker version too. So, the law is either useless, or it forces a percentage of the population to learn a language they don't want to. If the latter is true, it is racist. Think about it like this, would you force an immigrant to take an accent coach and learn the precise "proper" way to pronounce the words? Why not? It's the same idea, taken just a bit further. Possibly, you'd say they can make it with just the English language, and they can make themselves understood. In the first case, there are plenty of economic reasons to learn English. If they can make it without using English, that's just fine for them. They can decide whether they need English or not, better than you can. Why is it O.K. to force a minority to do something and not a majority? Well, traditionally it's considered not O.K. and this should not be an exception.

So, the law is useless unless it's racist. And thus it shouldn't exist.

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