Texas State Representative Leo Berman, R-Tyler, has sponsored a bill “relating to the establishment of English as the official language of Texas” and the requirement that official acts of government be performed in English.

The proposed legislation cites several reasons why such a bill is necessary, including:

* the people of the United States have brought to this nation the cultural heritage of many nations;

* the people of the United States, despite their many differences, have lived together harmoniously and productively as citizens of one nation;

* the traditional and common language of the United States and of this state is English;

* English has been this nation’s language by custom only and warrants special legal protection;

The proposed bill makes it clear that the bill does not:

* prohibit the use of another language for the public safety, health, or justice;

* prohibit instruction in foreign language courses;

* prohibit instruction designed to aid students with limited English proficiency in their transition and integration into the education system;

All well and good you say, so why the fuss?

Well, you’ll get no fuss from me, someone who has had to learn English. And you will not see me criticizing the way the English language is used and spoken in Texas—although I have made a little friendly fun of the Texas “Twang.” Nor—as someone who makes his share of mistakes in his acquired language—will I nitpick the way Texas legislators use the English language or the way this “English -only” bill has been framed and worded.

However, I don’t think it would be wrong to let a real Texan do just that: provide some commentary on what he (sarcastically?) calls “one of this session’s most important proposals.”

Edwin Dorn, a professor of public policy at the University of Texas and a former Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness, has an interesting column in today’s Austin American-Statesman.

The article starts:

An English-only bill is likely to elicit objections from latte liberals and folks who teach foreign languages. The latter group should not worry, however, because the bill will not “prohibit instruction in foreign language courses.” Strictly speaking, “instruction in foreign language courses” might not mean the same thing as “instruction in foreign languages,” but that should be easy to clarify.

Dorn then explains that if the goal of the bill is to provide English with special protection, it needs to go further.

First, the bill should require the governor to call a joint session of the Legislature, during which members would be made to practice saying “fiscal year,” instead of “physical year,” when discussing the budget. The governor also could explain the difference between “anxious” and “eager” (as in, he seems eager to cut education spending, and many of us are anxious about the effects of that). These small steps could go a long way toward making Texas the first state in the nation with a grammatically correct legislature.

Second, public officials should be required to hold up both hands to make air quotation marks whenever they say “y’all.” That will reassure the people of Texas that their officials know that “y’all” is not proper English.

Dorn provides additional examples—some tongue-in-cheek, some earnest—of how the major threat to English comes from “a failure to teach and use proper English” (i.e. know when to use “effect” or “affect,” “principal” or “principle,” “their” or “there,” “it’s” or “its,” etc.), not from other languages and how “English-only” advocates really have things backward when it comes to ensuring that Texans—or Americans—are truly proficient in English and when it comes to encouraging Americans to learn other languages.

He concludes, “We Texans need to master the English language, but English is not the only language we need.”

So true. Although I love the Texas “twang” or “drawl” and its imaginative and colorful expressions (e.g. “meaner than a skillet full of rattlesnakes”), the Texas legislature has to decide whether it is going to be Texan-only or English-only and whether Texas wants its citizens to be proficient in “standard” English, also.

And now I’m just plum tuckered out, y’all. But you can read more about it here

Dorian de Wind, Military Affairs Columnist
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