Should Spanish be the official language of United States


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Should Spanish be the official language of United States

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Mar 23, 2014, 11:45 am

Introduced by State Rep. Angel Cruz, House Resolution 665 would urge Congress to declare Spanish the official language of the United States. It would also urge Congress to require that all federal government acts occur in Spanish. Rep. Cruz introduced a similar bill, House Resolution 666, which would declare Spanish the official language of Pennsylvania.

If we consider the most basic purpose of language to be communication, does an official language serve to bring about greater unity or understanding? Or does it create dissension and division? What would the ramifications of such a bill be: would laws and legal documents have to be written in Spanish (and would there be English translations), would courts conduct business only in Spanish (would English translators be available), would we vote in Spanish? How much would this cost and how much are we currently spending on various services for non-English speakers?

I am a proponent of multilingualism and still remember some of my high school French, Spanish and Latin but I have to wonder about Cruz's purpose. I suspect he may just be grandstanding and trying to appeal to Hispanic voters.

Mar 23, 2014, 11:51 am

I suspect that Cruz' resolution is an ironic response to those who have been trying to make English the official language of the United States.

The real question is: why should the U.S. have any official language?

Mar 23, 2014, 12:38 pm

Which brings up the question: should any country have an official language? Apparently most do and some have several - India has almost two dozen. Does that promote a feeling of inclusion or does it create problems for smooth communication? I can see arguments for both sides.

Mar 23, 2014, 1:23 pm

Given that the language that Congress uses to conduct its business, I'd
argue that English *is* the official language of the US.

Mar 23, 2014, 1:41 pm

For a few years, Sweden had official minority languages, but not an official "majority" language.

At the end of the day, it's probably not very big of an issue if one language is defined as the official language or not. It matters more how the laws for the usage of that language are written and applied, and how any minority languages are treated.

Mar 23, 2014, 3:23 pm

My problem with "English is the official language" bills is that the intent is generally to alienate part of the public. Everything the federal government does is done in English already, and I would certainly err on the side of more translation, not less.

Mar 24, 2014, 6:01 am

The point of official languages is to clarify what citizens can expect from the state and to reduce the freedom of officials and local-government bodies to decide for themselves what languages to support, which can be either a good thing or a bad thing, depending on your point of view.

Official multilingualism is a good thing if you're in a situation where the speakers of some languages have previously been treated worse than others, or feel themselves under threat from the majority (Belgium, Canada); it can also be a way of protecting an important cultural tradition that might otherwise have been at the risk of dying out (Wales). But it's very expensive, it easily leads to absurdity (the Cardiff roadsign where the Welsh text is said to have read "I'm out of my office and will reply to your email shortly"), it creates an extra barrier for access to government jobs, and it absorbs language-learning time in school that could otherwise be devoted to learning foreign languages. A necessary evil in some situations, but something to be used with caution.

Official monolingualism seems to be primarily a gesture of arrogance. If the sole official language is a minority language (in the country as a whole or in that region) then it's a tool for maintaining the dominance of the minority associated with that language (Europeans in colonial times, for instance); if it's a majority language, then it's a way of excluding minorities from full civil rights unless they accommodate themselves to the majority culture.

Anyway, if the US were to decide on an official language, surely it ought to take an American language, not a colonial one. What about Navajo?

Mar 24, 2014, 6:53 am

I favor Latin, the fundamental language of Western culture, and the language of the foundational Laws of the Twelve Tables.

Mar 24, 2014, 6:55 am

e.g. some African countries have opted to treat French or English as the official language because they are a compromise in a country with a dozen native languages where picking any of those would be a bigger problem, so go for a language foreign for everyone (and I'd say same would be true for Native American languages in U.S., picking Navajo would cause complaints from Cree or Ojibwe etc).

While English is probably an official language of US in practice, it is interesting that it is not it in I guess that would make it possible that some piece of official communication would not be available in English if the person doing the communicating would so choose. Running, say, registration for voting only in Spanish or Navajo...

Mar 24, 2014, 7:12 am

Also, government languages and the language of business can differ. Many ex-colonies end up using the language of their colonizers as the language of business regardless of what the government uses officially or not.

Mar 24, 2014, 7:52 am

>9 hdcclassic: Running, say, registration for voting only in Spanish or Navajo

In letter, perhaps?, but in practice, no. And if the English-speaking population were large enough in that jurisdiction, doing so would violate the Voting Rights Act.

Here in Houston I can vote in English, Spanish, or Vietnamese. I've used the Spanish ballot (mostly just to see if the translation was crappy ... it wasn't) but have never braved the Vietnamese one, haha.

Mar 24, 2014, 6:26 pm

There's a state and there are four territories of the United States that have a second official language.


Mar 24, 2014, 8:34 pm

>12 Mr.Durick: Interesting that only one of them is Spanish.

Mar 26, 2014, 2:29 am

> 1

Perhaps the Black Speech.

Obama u bagronk sha pushdug McCain-glob búbhosh skai!

Abr 1, 2014, 2:18 am

>12 Mr.Durick: I vote for Samoan as the official language in the United States. There can't be more than 100 (I'm guessing here) non-native Samoans in the USA that know the language. Most everyone would be in the same boat and all who ran for political office would be required to learn Samoan. Perhaps that would keep lazy grafters out of politics.

>8 anthonywillard: And, I wouldn't have to go back to high school Latin at this stage of my life...

Fa'amolemole, ia fa'atelegese lau tautala

Editado: Abr 1, 2014, 12:01 pm

>15 bookblotter:
E te iloa fa'aSamoa? And if yes, how (and why) did you learn it?

P.S. No, I don't know any Samoan.

Abr 1, 2014, 1:10 pm

>16 Taphophile13: No, I don't know any Samoan either. I cheated with Omniglot which I've used before for other languages and language characters. I've used them partly for a geography game called Geoguessr played here on LT & elsewhere (more players welcome).

I had just read an article that I had squirreled away about the vulnerability of Samoa due to rising ocean levels. Depressing... That and the posting of Mr.Durick's link tipped the scales for me on Samoan. It's hard to imagine your country essentially disappearing. The language should live on at the least!

Editado: Abr 1, 2014, 2:34 pm

>17 bookblotter:
Ha! I cheated with Omniglot for my reply to you. It's a fun site.

Rising seas put so many places in jeopardy. I have seen maps that predict half the state of Florida will soon be underwater. Language extinction is even sadder. Have you read Spoken Here: Travels Among Threatened Languages by Mark Abley? Full of interesting details of various endangered and extinct tongues. Perhaps the strangest is that the last speaker of the Atures language of South America was not a person but Humbolt's parrot. No one could understand what the bird said.

Abr 1, 2014, 4:29 pm

>18 Taphophile13: Abley's book does look interesting from the reviews.

Regarding the last couple of sentences... The parrot really doesn't understand either, other than perhaps the Atures equal for "food." And, even at that, it is pushing the word "understand." But here is the perfect official language; no one understands it.

Abr 1, 2014, 8:22 pm

I'm sure that bird didn't understand a word it said; it was just parroting.