LINGUIST List 6.933

Wed Jul 5 1995

Misc: English only, A footnote on banning of German

Editor for this issue: Ann Dizdar <>


  1. Jack Aubert, Re: 6.895, Disc: English only
  2. George Huttar 709 2400, footnote on banning of German

Message 1: Re: 6.895, Disc: English only

Date: Wed, 28 Jun 1995 11:16:24 Re: 6.895, Disc: English only
From: Jack Aubert <>
Subject: Re: 6.895, Disc: English only

National (and US State) language policy is an issue of great practical
significance. In contrast with most of the topics discussed here, it is an
issue where the views of academic linguists have no greater value than the
views of laymen or practicing linguists like me, which emboldens me to
comment. I have spent most of my adult life working as an American Foregn
Service Officer, living abroad and working in foreign languages, which is
one of the attractions of the profession. I have also lived in, traveled
in, and observed bi- and multi-lingual countries and think my observations
give me some basis for having informed views on this issue.

I greatly enjoy learning and using foreign languages, and would gladly
support bi- and multi- lingualism in the U.S. if it meant encouraging all
Americans to learn Spanish or Chinese or whatever in addition to what they
already speak. (Fat chance!) However, this is not what "bi-lingualism"
really means in the U.S. It means making it easier for non-English speakers
to get through life without having to learn to speak English on the grounds
that this is more humane and fairer. Bi-lingualism means plural
mono-lingualism where each linguistic group acquires the right to avoid
learning a second language and to perpetuate this mono-lingualism from
generation to generation. I believe these policies to be badly misguided.
If they become generalized in the U.S., we will be sowing the seeds of
catastrhphe for future generations.

National plural mono-lingualism is a curse! It is a curse to be avoided at
all costs. History has not saddled us with this curse, as it has done to
Belgium, Candada, Finland, almost all of Africa, and ... (I could continue
indefinitly). We we would be insane to bring this malediction on our
children and grandchildren deliberately. Some, like the Swiss, manage their
problem better than others, but most "ethnic" conflicts (there are
counter-examples like the Hutus and Tutsis and the two flavors of Irish)
trace back to language. Basque and Catalan separatism is based on language.
Canada may end up breaking into two states, each with its own disgruntled
linguistic minority. Virtually all Belgian political activity revolves
around linguistic frontier issues and who should have the right to use which
language under what circumstances. In the states that are officially
"bi-lingual" or multi-lingual, individual bi-lingualism is rare or fading.
Instead, national bi-lingualism means the right to ignore the other
language. In "bi-lingual" Belgium you will find few Francophones willing to
learn Dutch, while in Flanders if you ask directions in French, you will get
cold stares unless your accent is bad enough to mark you as a foreigner.

I sympathise with the desire of all peoples to use their native language,
but cannot help observing that in each case the inhabitants of the region
would be better off if they had all been born speaking one arbitrary tongue,
whether French, Dutch, or Wolloff. Once you have large segments of the
population who do not speak the same language, you have to cope politically
with this given as best you can, but plural mono-lingualism is something you
would only wish on your national enemies. The US has not yet
institutionalized it and still has time to avoid falling into this morass.

English -- by accident of history -- is the glue that keeps the U.S.
together as one nation. By requiring all American children to attend
classes taught in English we are doing our non-native-English speaking
compatriots an enormous favor. As many readers of this list know, children
can "acquire" language in this way before they get too old and have to learn
about nouns, verbs, tenses, cases, and all the rest of the stuff that
clutters up language classes and makes it hard for adults to make any
headway. My own children had the priceless opportunity to attend French and
Belgian schools when they were young and can now boast close-to-full
bilingualism. Allowing (for example) native Spanish speakers living in the
U.S. to avoid learning English as young as possible and as well as possible
not only reduces their chance to find a level playing field in later life,
but solidifies and perpetuates linguistic fault lines within the U.S. that
are still exist only in ghostly outline.

This is an issue of public policy where the noble and compassionate impulse
to improve the well-being of our non-native-speaking compatriots
inadvertantly propels us down a path that ultimately leads to national
disintegration, linguistic intolerance, and worse.
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Message 2: footnote on banning of German

Date: Sat, 01 Jul 1995 15:12:00 footnote on banning of German
From: George Huttar 709 2400 <george.huttarSIL.ORG>
Subject: footnote on banning of German

 Some further details on the banning of German in Iowa can be found in a
 small display, about immigrants' language use, at the Danish Immigrants
 Museum in Elk Horn, Iowa. Much of the display has to do with the
 immigrants' rapid shift toward English. It also includes info and
 quotes from the law passed by Gov. Wm. L. Harding on 3 May 1918:

 "In Iowa during the war", (1) English is to be the only medium of
 instruction in all schools, public or private; (2) conversations in
 public places, in trains, and on telephones are to be in English; (3)
 all public addresses are to be in English; (4) people who cannot speak
 or understand English should conduct their religious worship in their

 (One can also pick up at the Museum a copy of _Bien_, the "only Danish
 weekly newspaper printed in the United States." It's a June 1994 issue
 for the opening of the museum, and appears to be about 1/3 in English,
 including almost 100% of the advertising.)

 George Huttar
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