Official Language = Official Nonsense

As evinced by the opinions expressed in my previous post, I am not a big fan of language regulators; having given the matter further thought, I realize that I am also not a fan of designating a certain language as the “official” language of a state, country, etc.  Though I could honestly care less whether other countries choose to designate a certain language as the official language, I am particularly indignant over the hoopla being generated in my own country–the US–about whether or not to designate English as the official language (at both the state and federal level).

It goes without saying that English is the most widely spoken language in the US, and that there is a reasonable expectation that most immigrants to the country will learn English to one degree or another (mostly out of necessity).  Nonetheless, it is absurd to think that we should coerce people into using English; it’s just a bad idea.

One good argument propounded by advocates of the official-language persuasion stipulates that public costs will be reduced by not printing materials in a second or even third language.  A fair point, but will those official materials reach as wide an audience and be used (forms, surveys, etc.) for practical, statistical purposes with the same degree of effectiveness?  I fear not, and losing touch with not only the citizenry but the broader public (legal and illegal residents) is likely to be one of the main effects of such a policy.

More importantly, designating Ensligh as the official language will only serve to further retard the process of propagating multilungualism throughout the population, an issue which is pivotal for our economic future.  Compared to many nations throughout the world the US public is woefully monolingual, and as the moment draws ever closer when Latinos will surpass Caucasians as the majority demographic, the need to stimulate (at the very least) bilingualism becomes all the more urgent.

Let’s not forget that the US is a nation of immigrants, and only some of those immigrants were English speakers.  If we start designating official languages we might just never stop, as minorities will protest to have their language included in the official lineup–look at the case of South Africa, which has 11 official languages!  Surely there won’t be money-saving potential in this maneuver when official documents are printed in a half-dozen or more languages instead of the maximum of two or three that is the case at the moment.

All in all: linguistic hubris is a vice, not a virtue.  In the end, it is somewhat entertaining to watch native English speakers awaken to the reality that they ought to learn at least one other language.  We’ll have to see where this issue stands in a generations’ time…hopefully the US will continue to steer clear of regulating such cultural issues, a proud distinction between us and many other countries.