LINGUIST List 6.955

Tue Jul 11 1995

Disc: English only

Editor for this issue: Ann Dizdar <>


  1. Jelly Julia, English only?
  2. Bernhard Rohrbacher, Re: 6.933, Misc: English only, A footnote on banning of German
  3. , Re: 6.933, Misc: English only

Message 1: English only?

Date: Thu, 06 Jul 1995 12:06:09 English only?
From: Jelly Julia <>
Subject: English only?

 English only?

 This is a reaction to the message by Jack Aubert.
 I can understand what you mean but I am not so sure whether you compare things
 with each other that actually should/can be compared.

 > 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

 In the U.S., the (mistaken) idea that English is the national language makes
 its easier for the people to take it for granted that one can very well get
 through life without having to learn any other language. Since language
 learning also entails getting to know a different culture, most people miss
 the opportunity to learn about other ways of living, eating, etc.

> National plural mono-lingualism is a curse!
 For everything you say about this, you did not mention one single argument
 that it should be English that can be the national language and not Spanish.
 What would you say about this if the number of citizens speaking Spanish
 fluently outnumbers the amount of people who speak English fluently?
 After all, the U.S. just tops off a continent where the great majority
 speaks Spanish. Why should they speak English at all, in that country to
 the north of Latin-America?

 > History has not saddled us with this curse, as it has done to
 > Belgium, ... 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.

 Basque and Catalan separatism is NOT based on language. Why do we never hear
 anything about Galician separatism on the Iberian Peninsula? Galician is a
 language very different from Spanish (and not so different from Portuguese).
 The name of the region is Galicia and is part of Spain. Galician is a language
 much older than Spanish itself: it was used for poetry and by the kings in
 ancient times. Still, we do not hear a lot about Galician separatism. Neither
 do we hear anything about Leonese separatism, Aragonese separatism, Andalusian
 separatism, simply because it does not exist. Separatism on the peninsula has
 NOTHING to do with language. It has everything to do with historic rights of
 old kingdoms.

 The comparison with Belgium might not be such a good one. The northern part
 of Belgium used to be Dutch, this is the reason these people speak Dutch. In
 the U.S., there is no regional division of groups of native-speakers as there
 is in Belgium (and like there is in Catalunya and Euzkadi too).It is much more
 probable that separatism between Dutch-speaking Belgians and French-speaking
 Belgians be encouraged, because it is easy to say: o.k., since the Flemish
 live in the north and the Walloons in the south, why don't we split up the
 country (and if they would, what can I hold against it?). In the U.S., this
 is not a very likely situation since the Spanish-speaking citizens live all
 over the country. There is also a big historical difference: a Mexican
 family living in Chicago will never be able to say "Jee, we and all our
 neighbours and all the people in Chicago, Illinois, Michigan, Indiana, etc.,
 we used to belong to another country, a country where Spanishwas the language.
 This soil where we were born and which we owe with thousands of "compatriots"
 used to belong to a Spanish-speaking country."

 And what if Canada breaks up? As long as they do it in peace.....

 Really, I think you use the wrong arguments here. I mean, do I use arguments
 like: look what China has done to Tibet: by invading the country they
 have destroyed a very important cultural and religious heritage, the Tibetans
 are forced to learn Chinese, the Tibetan culture will be lost soon. SO please
 allow Spanish in the U.S.?
 No, I don't use this argument either because you cannot compare a cat with
 a bird.

> Allowing (for example) native Spanish speakers living in the
> U.S. to avoid learning English as young as possible and as well as possible
> ..............etc.

 Allowing millions and millions of people in a modern, industrialized country
 like the U.S. to avoid learning any other language but their own greatly
 surprises me.

 Really, from a practical point of view, and trying to agree with Jack
 Aubert, I would like to conclude with this. Yes, of course plural
 mono-linguism is a problem. But does it make sense to expect that the
 half of the population of a country that has worse access to good
 education is going to make the step of learning two languages well?
 As has been investigated in minority regions in Europe, it has been
 proved that people can only learn a language well when they know their
 own language well. This is the reason the Frisian language got
 reintroduced in the schools in Frisia again in the seventies. Frisia
 is a region in the north of Holland where people speak Frisian and
 Dutch. Most schools in the cities have Dutch as a main language and
 Frisian as a second language but in the country-side, at least the
 first three years, mathematics and everything is being taught in
 Frisian and Dutch is a second language. There is no separatism in
 Frisia. In fact, the Frisians are among the Dutch to speak Dutch
 best since a lot of other Dutch only speak their local dialect and are
 ununderstandable for someone who comes from another region. Since
 (children of) Spanish speakers in the U.S. cannot go
 to a Spanish school to learn their mother tongue thoroughly, they will
 never be able to learn English really well. It seems more realistic
 to expect that the ones who already speak their mother-tongue well
 and who have, generally speaking, better access to better education
 would learn Spanish. Let THEM become bilingual (and maybe monolingual
 Spanish in the end??)

 Jelly Julia de Jong * +++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++
ATW, O.K. i.h. Jatstraat 26 * + Dept. of General Linguistics+
 9712 EK Groningen * + University of Groningen +
 The Netherlands * + +++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

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Message 2: Re: 6.933, Misc: English only, A footnote on banning of German

Date: Thu, 06 Jul 1995 13:47:16 Re: 6.933, Misc: English only, A footnote on banning of German
From: Bernhard Rohrbacher <>
Subject: Re: 6.933, Misc: English only, A footnote on banning of German

Jack Aubert writes:

> In contrast with most of the topics discussed here, [national language
> policy] is an
> issue where the views of academic linguists have no greater value than the
> views of laymen or practicing linguists

I beg to differ. Lay(wo)men's misconceptions about language are poisoning
the public debate about English Only, and recognizing the greater value
of the views of academic linguists might be just what is needed to
improve that debate. Is it merely an accident that the vast majority of
academic linguists opposes (while a majority of laypeople supports)
English Only and related movements, or is it an indication
that those academic linguists know something that the laypeople do not know?

> [Bilingualism in the US] 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.

I am not an expert on bilingualism, but I have a hunch that this is a very
lopsided characterization of bilingualism as currently practiced in (small
pockets of) the US. I would be good to hear from subscribers who actually are
experts on bilingualism.

> most "ethnic" conflicts ...
> trace back to language. Basque and Catalan separatism is based on language.

Language played absolutely no role in the biggest "ethnic
conflict" of our time, i.e. the racist war of the Germans against Jews, Slavs,
Gypsies and other "non-aryans". Where language does play a role in "ethnic
conflicts", it does so only as (an important) part of a different cultural
itentity, whatever THAT is. Most of the time, these conflicts aren't purely
"ethnic" but also (and sometimes please don't freeze onexclusively) based
on other factors such as class. The "ethnic conflict" between Hutus and
Tutsis is an excellent example for this, but the details would lead to
far astray.

> English -- by accident of history -- is the glue that keeps the U.S.
> together as one nation.

The glue that keeps the US
together as one nation (if indeed there is such a glue and such a unified
nation) contains many ingredients, among which brute force and economic
interests play a much bigger role than English or some other linguistic
phenomenon. The unifying powers of police batons and wageloss (for which one
can blame the Japanese, or Mexicans, or anybody except the American ruling
class) far exceed those of the poems of Walt Whitman.

> By requiring all American children to attend
> classes taught in English we are doing our non-native-English speaking
> compatriots an enormous favor.

Clearly the "non-native-English speaking compatriots" cannot be included
in the "we" who are doing "our blablabla" a favor
when "we" (and "we" alone) require all American children to attend classes
taught in English. This is what English Only truly is about: Maintaining or
returning to a status quo where "we" make decisions for "our blablabla" whose
benefactors "we" thereby are.


Bernhard Rohrbacher
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Message 3: Re: 6.933, Misc: English only

Date: Thu, 06 Jul 1995 14:46:00 Re: 6.933, Misc: English only
From: <Marion.KeeA.NL.CS.CMU.EDU>
Subject: Re: 6.933, Misc: English only

Jack Aubert is absolutely correct. The teaching of Standard English is
a thing that I do not hesitate to say should be compulsory nationwide
(although this doesn't necessarily mean that it has to be so via a
Federal-level mandate.) I have nothing at all against personal or
familial or ethnic bilingualism and I spent a great deal of time and
effort to render myself bilingual as a teenager, when the odds were
against me. If it were up to me, most people would master a second
language in childhood. However, English is an essential ingredient of
the glue that binds the U.S. together. It is far more cruel to help
non-English speakers in the U.S. to get along without it than it is to
require that they learn it (and to provide the necessary educational
infrastructure.) A substantial majority of formerly-non-English-speaking
immigrants to the U.S. hold this position, and if they do not feel
denigrated by having to learn English, who are the other "experts" that
would claim it is degrading? (I haven't seen anyone express that
opinion yet on this list; have I missed any such posts?)

>National plural mono-lingualism is a curse!

Damn straight it is!!

--Marion Kee

Marion Kee | I don't speak for CMU,
Knowledge Engineer, Center for Machine Translation | and CMU returns the favor.
Carnegie Mellon University Pittsburgh, PA, USA | All opinions are my own.
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