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Posted by on Jun 22, 2009 in Politics | 9 comments

About That New Republican Majority

I don’t link to ThinkProgress all that often, but here is one story that’s unfortunately worth a look. It centers on MSNBC regular Pat Buchanan. Please go read the article, but it features Pat hosting an event where they would discuss the best way for Republicans to regain their majority status. One avenue under discussion was to fight for English only initiatives. (For the record, I favor some of these in appropriate areas, while I firmly believe that local interests should be able to have multi-lingual signs, forms, instructions, etc. if they want to pay for it. This particularly applies to areas with a lot of travel and tourism interests.)

Unfortunately for Pat, his meeting had a rather … ummm.. interesting banner hanging over the hall where they defended English as the mother tongue.

Notice anything odd here? I’m sorry, Pat. I enjoy your commentary on a regular basis, but today I’m afraid I must award you and the rest of the event organizers with a brand new award from TMV. It’s the Mt. Stupid Award.

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Copyright 2009 The Moderate Voice
  • DLS

    Why do you call it stupid? Was that the best or the _only_ issue or initiative they address or could conceive? “Pitiful” is more like it, in that case.

  • shannonlee

    They spell with their “GUT”.

  • Zzzzz

    Oh, it gets better. To quote thinkprogress:

    Peter Brimelow, one of the panelists to the event, is the editor of He has written extensively against immigration and has long advocated that the GOP must “appeal to its base: white Americans.” Brimelow has defended accusations that he writes and publishes white supremacist material by declaring his content to be merely “white nationalist.”

    Brimelow also urged the attendees of the Buchanan conference to attack affirmative action in an effort to attract the votes of “young whites” and “yellow people.”

    I wonder how liberals get the impression that white supremacy might be right wing.

  • kathykattenburg

    Oooops.I just wrote a post about this. I didn’t see you got there first until after I posted it. Sorry.

  • pacatrue

    I once wrote a long post about English Only policies and have taken the liberty of posting it below. The short version is that children are the key to language integration, and it is social inclusion of those children which drives which languages they learn. Attempts to marginalize a group which does not have English as their native language actually helps perpetuate that condition; it doesn’t drive them towards English. Also, bilingualism is in fact a norm around the world and there’s no evidence that knowing another language prevents a child from acquiring an additional one. If we want to have a highly educated workforce, we should support bilingualism wherever possible. Here’s the long version:

    It might help to start with looking at the big picture of English use in the world. There are approximately 6,000 languages in the world; however, most of them are in rapid decline. One decent estimate is that about half of them or 3,000 languages will be dead by the end of the century. What it means for a language to be dead, of course, is that there are no native speakers anymore. The reasons for language death are extraordinarily complicated, but the single biggest factor is whether or not children use the language growing up. Do parents teach their child Hawaiian or Navajo or Spanish or not? When the children stop learning it, the language is dead, no matter what the policy is. There’s a small cohort of linguists who travel the world doing what is called “salvage linguistics”. A salvage linguist is usually working with someone, usually in their 70s and up, who is believed to be the last speaker of a language. It’s essentially impossible to revive a language at that point. The linguist is simply trying to record as much of the language as possible for historical record before it is gone forever. Most languages of course are unwritten, so the linguist’s few months with a speaker are all that will ever be known about that culture.

    So, why do children stop learning the language that their own parents speak? It usually has something to do with social or economic prestige. Another language is viewed as the better language to speak if you want to get ahead in life. The languages which are replacing these small languages are the obvious candidates – Chinese, Indonesian, Spanish, French, Russian, and more than any of those, probably combined, English. Language communities all over the world are dropping their traditional language to speak English. Why?

    One case study is in Guam, where Chamorro is the native language. Guam is a territory of the US and the US has a big military presence there. A couple decades ago people noticed that where before the number of people in Guam speaking Chamoro had been in the tens of thousands, the number of people speaking had dropped into the hundreds. The critical number is always the number of children speaking, not the number of adults, and that was dwindling to nothing. Chamorro was on the path to extinction. People concerned about this noticed that American policy actively discouraged the use of Chamorro. Everything was conducted in English; education was English only. I don’t know if this was actually the case in Guam, but it is not unusual for countries to actively ban minority languages from being spoken in any public forum, such as the schoolyard. The USSR did this rampantly. Hundreds of languages are native to its territory, but only Russian was allowed in schools and the like. The reason was always to integrate these people with the nation state. Most of those languages are extinct now. There were periods in Hawaii where the same thing was done with Hawaiian. English of course was the replacement. Anyway, noticing these active prohibitions in Guam, American policy was actually changed. Restrictions on Chamorro were removed. Often such movements also come with the small language being played some on the radio or some minority language TV programming becoming available. Perhaps official documents are published bilingually in English and Chamorro.

    In Guam, and it turns out to be the case generally, this didn’t work. Chamorro stayed right on its path to extinction. The reason is that Chamorrans wanted a better life for their child. And in Guam where the economy is based around the American presence, the ticket to a good life is speaking English. And in a sense, the parents are right. If you want a good paying job their children needed to speak English. Until you could convince the parents that speaking Chamorro wasn’t going to be a barrier to their child’s happiness, you weren’t going to make any progress in saving Chamorro as a native language. Now, there is something of a happy ending to the Guam story. The key is that the parents were making a false choice. It is fully possible for any healthy child to grow up bilingual. Childen, unlike adults, are language geniuses, and they quickly figure out things like, I speak Polish with my grandparents, and French with my parents, and English with all my friends at school. And there is little basis if any that speaking Polish at home has any hindrance on the child’s adult competence in English. If anything, usually the home language gets dropped if the parents don’t press it, because the child wants to be like his friends, not different.

    I am going into all of this to give some indications concerning why people learn and abandon languages. So the question is: are there sufficient incentives to learn English in the United States? The answer is clearly yes. It simply is not possible to operate in the US as an adult outside of local communities without speaking English. This is not to say that there are not adults in the US who don’t speak English and get by alright. They run shops, sit on city councils, and such. This has always been the case. People spoke French in parts of Louisiana for 200 years. You can live in San Francisco’s Chinatown and only speak Cantonese. I was talking online to a man in his 60s who grew up in Niagara Falls, NY, where his first language was Italian. It is worth noting that he can hardly speak Italian now and just went to Italy as a retiree to relearn again. And this is the way things usually work in the US. To leave south Louisiana or Chinatown and get around, you must learn English. And the children almost always do. North America is in fact one of the hot beds of language extinction in the world, up there with Australia. What languages are disappearing in the US? Here is a list. Scroll down for an eye-opening listing and compare to other countries. These are almost all native American languages as you will see and all of the children in those communities are speaking English now.

    Is the situation with Spanish speakers in the southwest so different that these same patterns which have repeated throughout American history will not repeat again? It’s a possibility, but it is unlikely. Unless Spanish-speaking children are shut out or unless Mexican immigrants are the only people in the entire world who don’t wish the best for their kids economically, the children will learn English, and English will continue as the common language for the country as it always has.

    Will declaring English the official language help further this process? It’s hard to see how. Parents already know that for their kids to become lawyers they have to take the bar exam in English. The benefits of speaking English are already apparent to everyone. Having Congress, on top of the natural incentives, say that English is “official” will have little impact. All it seems to really say is, “by the way, we don’t like your language – officially.”

    Notice, however, that I have spoken almost entirely about children. It is possible that one could slightly increase English use among Spanish speaking adults with governmental policy, but the effects will be slight and probably not very long lasting if the purpose is genuine social integration. Parents will just bring their child to translate the form for them. And of course we all want to depend on a 10 year old to interpret tax documents for us. Or they will sign a form not knowing really what it says. Think about your two years of French or Spanish or German or whatever and what level your language was at after that time. Now compare that to reading a legal document in that language or defending yourself in court in that language. No way, right? If you want every adult in the US to understand English at that level, you are asking for them to study for at least 4-5 years. While they are driving from California farm to California farm harvesting for the grape season. It’s not going to happen.

    No, if the important thing is to have some language as a common language for the large majority of citizens, so that they are truly competent in it, you have to make sure the children are learning and not worry about the parents. For the parents, you make sure they can do well enough to provide opportunities for their child. I don’t see any vote in Congress helping children in this process.

  • TheLid

    Jazz…he probably blamed the banner on Israel and the neocons

  • superdestroyer

    There is less reason for Hispanics to learn English than ever before. Many of them live in neighborhoods that are overwhelmingly Hispanic where kitchen Spanish is the defacto language of business. Spanish language television, radio, DVD’s reinforce Spanish. A constant influx of Spanish only speaking immigrants keeps the focus on Spanish speaking.

    As places like Texas, California, and Florida become majority Spanish speaking, there will be little reason to learn English. The push will be to force the remainng whites to learn Spanish in order to force them out instead of forcing Hispanics to learn English. See Miami, El Paso, and Southern California for good examples.

  • smithfwe

    lol Americans

  • DLS

    [sigh] As I’ve written elsewhere, I ignored the spelling (I’ve stated elsewhere I’ve seen the famous photo of Browning and his boys at his shop, advertising AMUNITION among other things) and concentrated on the bigger issue.

    There’s nothing wrong with insisting on official government English and on assimilation as opposed to the wacky stuff generally falling under the term “multi-culturalism,” which even serious libs like the late Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. (New Deal dinosaur, die-hard Demmie) found troublesome. (He’s gone, but his book on the subject, “The Disuniting of America,” lives on. When definite liberals even object to it, it’s a problem.)

    I’d favor the traditionist-libertarian reconstitution policy agenda for reviving (and to some extent, reforming) the GOP, meaning we should set priorities, eliminate not only what government (particularly the federal government, as opposed to state and local governments) should do but the less important things that it can do in these tough economic times, and downsize it drastically (not simply outsource everything, but put so much of it effectively into Chapter 7 liquidation and constitutional return of so much of it to state and local government, which need not maintain, continue, or support everything necessarily, of course, where so much of what Washington does and what it _owns_ in the case of natural resources actually belongs — state and local government when not the private sector or nowhere at all), making for mass layoffs in Washington and elsewhere in the federal government, and doing well and right only those few things that are essential or most important (and constitutionally authorized and legitimate, if we want to get _really_ picky).

    The problem with downsizing is that we have an entitlement-addicted vote-bought public that wants MORE.

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