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I Have Questions For the English-Only Movement

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Or more specifically, for the movement’s largest and most vocal organization, U.S. English.

Q: So uh, first off, why do you call yourself U.S. English? Why not The U.S. English Organization or something? As it stands, your name is a little unclear.

A: Because we control all the English! Or at least the U.S. English. IT IS OURS.

Q: Oh, alright then. Well, maybe you could explain your position to me a little more, as it sounds, to laypersons such as myself, like a huge pile of bullshit.

A: Well, duh, making English the official language of the U.S. will make life better for immigrants, because it forces them to learn things, which, as we all know, immigrants are generally averse to doing.

Q: Yeah. Lazy immigrants. That’s not racism, it’s just truth! Anyway, I’m sure I’m not the first person to observe that trying to make English the official language of a country that is still home to so many indigenous languages, or at least the ones that have thrived in spite of what amounts to mass genocide, is a little—

A: We don’t actually address that anywhere on our website, so I don’t know what to tell you there.

Q: So you don’t see the hypocrisy in telling immigrants to learn English without having learned the indigenous language most common to your particular region of the country yourself?

A: No.

Q: Not to press the issue, but do you genuinely not see how offensive this is? English isn’t in any danger of dying out, but many—most, even—indigenous languages are. English doesn’t need to be preserved; it’s doing just fine. I mean, I totally support attempts to preserve endangered languages, like the indigenous languages I just mentioned. Or if you want to go across the ocean, take a language like Welsh, which, unlike English, isn’t even an official language of Wales. See, that’s a language that needs preserving. Wintu needs preserving. But English? English is thriving like a goddamn mosquito by a river.

A: A mosquito by a river?

Q: Look, I have six bites on one hand. I’m pissy. But you see my point.

A: Not really. We’re a bunch of clueless assholes.

Q: Well that just gives me a sad. The US is basically one big colony, you know? And to actually try and pass legislation mandating that people learn the language of the colonizers while native languages continue to die out is just—

A: Can we change the subject? Examining my privilege feels weird.

Q: Alright, fine. My next question is a more practical one, namely, should you succeed, what do you expect this movement to accomplish?

A: Force the dumb immigrants to speak good, of course.

Q: Right. But you know, on your website, you list all the states that have English-only laws, as well as the states that have the largest populations that speak English worse than “very well,” and there’s some overlap. Like California. California has English as its official state language, but also has the largest population of people who speak English “less than very well” of any other state in the nation. Doesn’t that kind of undercut your argument?

A: Hey now—

Q: I’m also wondering how, if English were to be declared the national language of the U.S., you would go about enforcing that. I mean, are you going to hand out citations every time you hear someone speaking a language other than English? Because you make this big point of being all, we totally support people learning other languages, but your position doesn’t really seem to support that.

A: Duh, Paprika, if English is declared the official language, it will be the only language used in government, and on driver’s license exams, and on signage—

Q: Wait. So if shit goes your way, people who don’t speak English fluently won’t be able to get driver’s licenses?

A: It’s already that way in Arkansas.

Q: Well fuck.

A:We win!

Q: Not yet. Look, I’ve yet to see any proof that your arguments stem from anything other than good old-fashioned racism. You cite national unity as an argument in favor of English-Only, implying that Amurrica is fractured and inharmonious—which, duh—but you fail to provide a causal link between linguistic diversity and general shittasticness. I mean, this isn’t an especially linguistically diverse country anyway, and what diversity we have is due in large part to languages that are becoming obsolete. We don’t generally encourage our native English speakers to learn other languages, but we insist on immigrants learning English. We ignore how difficult English is (and sorry, but some of the most ardent supports of the EOM can barely compose a coherent sentence), and don’t even consider how much more difficult it is for adults to acquire new languages. (You know that statistic you cite about the age disparity in immigrants who speak English “very well”? Yeah, well, I guarantee that’s related to how easily children pick up new languages compared to adults.) I also think it’s interesting that you act purely as a lobbying group, and don’t actually do anything to help immigrants learn English, short of linking to the US English Foundation. And although this foundation supposedly sponsors English classes for immigrants, they also make a point of saying, in their mission statement, that language learning assistance should be “short-term and transitional,” and that one of their goals is “to raise public awareness about the importance of our common language.” Specifying in the mission statement that the immigrants should only be granted “short-term and transitional” language assistance raises plenty of red flags, and suggests that they don’t really understand how the whole language acquisition thing works. And I have to wonder, too, if your goal is simply to lobby for legislation that supports your dream of a magical English-Only wonderland, why don’t you try to pass laws that, say, mandate the availability of free English classes to immigrants? That would be far more helpful than simply banning Spanish driver’s license exams.

A: So what’s your point?

Q: My point is that you don’t really care about national unity. You don’t care if everyone lives in perfect harmony, you just want brown people to act less brown. I mean, hell, if you were even advocating for an artificial language to bridge the gap between different nationalities, I’d think it was a needlessly complex approach, but I’d believe you when you said you were just trying to help. But what you’re doing with this movement is creating the illusion of a problem which you then try to correct with a plan fundamentally rooted in racism. Do you really believe people emigrate to the US expecting to never have to learn the language? Of course not. But there aren’t many resources available to immigrants—and I’m not just referring to illegal immigrants either, but to all of them—and at any rate, if you seriously have a problem with people holding on to their native languages and cultures, then you are terrible. Objectively terrible. And the legislation you’re trying to push through won’t do anything but make things more difficult.

A: Yeah, well, what’s your solution?

Q: I don’t think we should have a national language at all, personally, but if it went to a vote and my side lost, I’d say that at the very least we should declare more than one. That’s not actually very unusual, you know—ever heard of Switzerland? Declare English, Spanish, and maybe French. Keep signage in multiple languages; offer licensing exams in multiple languages. Encourage our children to learn languages besides English, because being multilingual is great. I don’t think we get to demand that immigrants be bilingual without making an effort ourselves. People will always figure out a way to communicate—you don’t need to pass legislation demanding that we communicate in one way. Basically, don’t opt to limit our knowledge; opt to expand it. Offer free classes in Spanish and English. Work to preserve indigenous languages. Don’t be an asshole. It’s really quite simple.

A: Do you ever shut up?

Q: No, actually.

A: I barely talked at all in this interview.

Q: Of course you didn’t. This was really just a platform for me to pontificate. Thanks for playing, though!

A: …

The End.

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About Paprika

Paprika Davis is a perpetually annoyed twenty-something college student waitress who would rather be a squirrel. The lack of commas in the previous sentence bothers her, but her laziness overrides her desire to improve the writing.

2 responses »

  1. Oh… when context makes things funny that aren’t really funny at all.

    Reply
  2. That was actually just a little bit awesome. Thank you.

    Reply

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