LINGUIST List 6.967

Mon Jul 17 1995

Disc: English only

Editor for this issue: Ann Dizdar <>


  1. Maria Vilkuna, official bilingualism
  2. , English Only
  3. Johanna Rubba, Re: 6.955, Disc: English only
  4. , Re: 6.955, Disc: English only
  5. "Ormsby Lowry Harold-CELE", Re: 6.933 (Aubert's comments)
  6. Linguistic Group, Disc: English only

Message 1: official bilingualism

Date: Tue, 11 Jul 1995 07:51:18 official bilingualism
From: Maria Vilkuna <>
Subject: official bilingualism

Concerning Jack Aubert's posting on language policy in bilingual
countries (LINGUIST List: Vol-6-933), I would like to assure all
readers of LINGUIST that, for me personally, or apparently for most
Finns, the official bilingualism of this country is most definitly not
a "curse". There are exceptions, of course, such as adolescents
complaining about having to try to learn the other language at school,
but just about everything at school is a bore anyway at that stage,
and a fair proportion of the young people grow up appreciating the
richness of culture the situation has brought about, or at least, not
suffering from it. Of course, there was a time of rather bitter
controversy around the language issue, but it would have been
a pity if it had led to any other solution than the present one.

There would be a lot to say about the issues raised by Jack Aubert,
but not being a sociolinguist, I will stop now, hoping that Finnish,
Canadian, Belgian etc. experts will react.

Maria Vilkuna
Maria Vilkuna
Kotimaisten kielten tutkimuskeskus /
Research Institute for the Languages of Finland
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Message 2: English Only

Date: Wed, 12 Jul 1995 03:36:27 English Only
From: <>
Subject: English Only

Marion Kee wrote:

>Jack Aubert is absolutely correct. The teaching of Standard English is
>a thing that I do not hesitate to say should be compulsory nationwide

While you are at it you might consider making wearing blue suits
compulsory and also eating broccoli every day. Birds are not forced to
make their sounds in a certain way: Why should humans? If I should decide
that I will conduct the rest of my life through the medium of the Chinese
language only, will I be a bad human being for doing that? A bad U.S.


>However, English is an essential ingredient of
>the glue that binds the U.S. together.

Your reasons are not explicit here, and I have no idea what they might be.
One of the greatest and most difficult challenges to the binding together
of the U.S. came during the Civil War; and in that conflict, English
played no part whatsoever in determining events one way or the other.


>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

A lot of people in the world get along very well without English. They
have good jobs, earn excellent income, manage to get an education which,
in many cases, is better that U.S. education. As for the view that
forcing (or 'requiring') people to do something on the grounds that it
would be more cruel not to do so, I regard such arguments with a great
deal of suspicion. Many a dictator in the world have argued their case in
exactly the same way.


>A substantial majority of formerly-non-English-speaking
>immigrants to the U.S. hold this position,

I don't know what positions the substantial majority of
formerly-non-English-speaking immigrants to the U.S. hold on this issue or
any other issue. And speaking for myself, my position is this: The U.S.
would be a much greater nation is we were to be a society of 'plural
multi-lingualism'. This would entail having tremendous openness to other
people's cultural and linguistic patterns and being ready to allow such
patterns to co-exist in the fabric of the U.S. national life. That
attitude, in my view, could be the real glue to keep this society

Paul J. Perry
Linguistics, City University of New York
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Message 3: Re: 6.955, Disc: English only

Date: Wed, 12 Jul 1995 13:31:25 Re: 6.955, Disc: English only
From: Johanna Rubba <>
Subject: Re: 6.955, Disc: English only

To Jack Aubert and others who share his concerns I have two things to say:

(1) Relax. The history of migration to this country (and, sadly, of the
native peoples who were here before the Europeans) is one of, overwhelmingly,
loss of the native language and huge components of the native cultural
heritage over several generations. Just give each wave of immigrants some
time. After a few generations go by, they may regret (as so many of us
do) the fact that they never were taught the language of their grandparents.
There is tremendous economic and social pressure in most immigrant
groups to learn and use English. If certain groups are not learning English
well, it might be a good idea to look at their general progress in education
and their socioeconomic position in society; these probably have more to
do with their lack of English skills than anything else.

(2) Pardon me, but the opinions of 'academic linguists' (I take this to
mean people educated in the scientific discipline known as linguistics,
i.e. experts on language) certainly should weigh more heavily than
the opinions of those without such training. Would you have us make
economic policy without consulting economists, or public health policy
without consulting doctors and public health experts? I realize that
this message hasn't gotten out too strongly to the general public, but
'academic' linguists _do_ know more about language than most people,
including legislators, and there is even a whole subdiscipline, called
sociolinguistics, with a further subfield called language policy/planning,
where much research has been done on these particular concerns. It
would behoove those engaged in such policy making to consult these experts,
as for example Australia has done.

I can recommend Dennis Baron's excellent book on this subject -- I
believe it is called something like 'English Only: a single language
for all Americans?' for people who have so far only been exposed to
laypeople's ideas about the issue; and I also recommend spending some
time in a library surveying the research and accumulated wisdom on
bilingualism, language policy, and language planning in various parts of the
world. Baron's book is very accessible to people without a Ph.D. in
linguistics, and is a very interesting read.

Aubert's message reads like a US English tract; if these are the only
ideas he has been exposed to, then he has had the misfortune of only
hearing one side of the debate, and, a further misfortune, the side that
is not informed by expert wisdom on the subject. It seems to me that it
would make sense to explore the experts' point of view before making up
one's mind on the official English/English only controversy.

Johanna Rubba
Assistant Professor
English Department
California Polytechnic State University
San Luis Obispo, CA
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Message 4: Re: 6.955, Disc: English only

Date: Wed, 12 Jul 1995 19:45:05 Re: 6.955, Disc: English only
Subject: Re: 6.955, Disc: English only

Separatism can have a good deal to do with language where separatism is based
on culture, which, in turn, is intertwined with politics. French Canada
is a good example. The question is how separate. At least some in
Catalonia seem to be expressing their desire to keep the Spanish language
at a distance by spray-painting out the Spanish in Catalan/Spanish road
signs. Jelly Julia wrote that separatism is based on the ancient rights
of kingdoms (and other entities, I might add). What may have been the
distinguishing feature of the political unit was cultural cohesiveness
manifest in some common language.

Bill King
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Message 5: Re: 6.933 (Aubert's comments)

Date: Fri, 07 Jul 1995 09:45:17 Re: 6.933 (Aubert's comments)
From: "Ormsby Lowry Harold-CELE" <>
Subject: Re: 6.933 (Aubert's comments)

(1) I have yet to find a case of language conflict that is not directly
related to the maintainance/acquisition of political and economic power.
Language is a symbol, not a cause.

(2) Aubert says "[I] 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" but it doesn't seem to
occur to him that "Spanish or Chinese or whatever" may well be the language
of any particular American's neighbors and that that would be the best
reason to learn one of those languages. The fact that he finds these
languages acceptable so long as they're kept "foreign" is informative.

(3) I would say that any sort of monolingualism is a curse and that any
country is "insane to bring this malediction on [its] children and grand-
children deliberately." By defending their own monolingualism, minorities
counter the right to monolingualism that (powerful parts of) the majority
has granted itself and denies to everyone else.

(4) If English is the only "glue that keeps the U.S. together as one
nation," the country is doomed to tearing itself apart. From this
outsider's point of view, all of the rantings that are
exacerbating social conflict in the US are said in English; the language
isn't a unifying factor at all.

Harold Ormsby L.
Centro de Investigaciones y Estudios Superiores
en Antropologia Social (CIESAS)
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Message 6: Disc: English only

Date: Mon, 17 Jul 1995 13:02:37 Disc: English only
From: Linguistic Group <>
Subject: Disc: English only

Following on from the discussion, I think in any multi-ethnic,
multi-cultural society, the establishment of ONE national
language is a necessary evil - it is a means to an end, i.e. national
cohesiveness. Malaysia is an interesting case in point:

It comprises 3 major ethnic - all migrant - groups (with unrelated
languages): Malays,Chinese and Indians (collectively known as
Malaysians), with the aborigines being the indigenous peoples of the
Malay peninsula. Historically it is not really accurate to label Malays
as migrants although they originated from Central Asia (Yunan and
surrounding regions), by virtue of being by far the oldest group and the
Melanesian (including Malay) language predating colonisation by centuries=

as the lingua franca of the region. Under British colonial rule in the
19th century, pluralism among these three ethnic groups was not only
maintained, it was actively propagated through the notorious 'divide
and rule' policy. With independence, Malay was declared to be the
national language but English was given a special 'elitist' position.
Most importantly it was the language of instruction in education (the
first locals to learn English/have the benefit of an English education were=

the Malay princes and related royalty, through the missionary schools).

However,this position has been reversed in stages. The comment made by
Bernard Rohnrbacher:

>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

about the US is paralleled here to some extent, and confirmed by the
recent general elections where the ruling govt. party made a landslide
victory (the largest-ever margin) - gaining the mandate for, among other
things, its long-standing Malay language enforcement policy. The huge
success is attributed to the current economic boom. Previously a source
of considerable ethnic conflicts and even racial riots a few decades ago,=

the language issue seems to have taken a back seat in the minds of the

The language policy has lead to far greater national unity and though
initially enforced, it has evolved such that =D4brute force=D5 in
implementing it is unnessary at this point. The interesting development
is a high level of competence on the part of non-Malays in the Malay
language: Malay is the sole medium from primary through post-graduate
level education, and a large number of non-Malays perform academically
better in the Malay language than Malays. Most educated Malaysians are
competent bilinguals (non-Malays are trilingual). For example, my school=

education was in the English medium, and tertiary, in Malay - and I
realise that there are times when I am more comfortable speaking Malay
than Bengali, my mother tongue, or English.

The govt. is currently adopting a more liberal stand, in fact promoting, =

albeit low-keyed, the use of English in all sectors in its efforts at
internationalism, specifically in connection with the objective to make
Malaysia an industrialsed nation by the 21st century. This policy is
enjoying the almost undivided attention and effort of all the ethnic
communities and the objective at this stage seems well within reach.

In the comfortable, temperate climate of economic well-being has grown
(though not entirely an painless process) a greater understanding and
inter-ethnic forbearance and a greater willingness to allow other groups
to maintain their ethnic identity. Of course it is not entirely a
simplistic magic wand that has wiped out all =D4hiccups=D5, but being an
Indian (Hindu) I can see (and experience that there is here currently, an=

obvious revival of Indian religious and cultural practices unlike
before. I would link this to two factors: first, the strong position of
the Malays, such that they no longer feel threatened by such
manifestations and are therefore more willing to =D4live and let live=D5 an=
second, Indians are being spurred to promote and practice their own
culture by the example of the Malay-Muslims.

I would conclude that one of the explanations for this state of affairs
is indeed a linguistic phenomenon - the enforcement of one national
language is the Start Symbol for a strong basis of national unity .
Essentially, all the factors - linguistic, political, economic, social -
are interdependent and reciprocal in achieving national unity and
cohesiveness. Perhaps it echoes Jack Aubert=D5s opinion:

> 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..

Lalita Sinha
Computer Aided Translation Unit
Universiti Sains Malaysia
Penang, Malaysia
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