Preface: This was written for my English Composition II class and submitted October 22, 2010.
Designating English as the official language of the United States
Currently, and surprisingly, there is no official language designated for the United States of America. Should English be that official language for our nation? The United States is usually thought of an English speaking country and the Official Language needs to be representative of the same for many reasons. The voting public is extremely divided; with some stating that the United States should remain language-less, others claim it should be Spanish, while another viewpoint is to choose multilingualism, and even some claim an unrecognized language of “American” should become the new official language. There are many views on this topic, heated debates, and political upheavals by both citizens and illegal immigrants of various backgrounds, not only the English and non-English speaking. This topic is extremely controversial among many groups; both political and non-political. The underlying ramifications of a decision; or lack thereof, many may not realize but will be presented thoroughly in addition to the mere implications of a decision finally being made on the topic on a nationwide basis and statewide level, will be weighed against each other. The results of the research efforts shall present several aspects concerning English as the official language of the United States including, but not limited to; language choices aside from English that are being presented as the official language, the financial ramifications between having and not having an official language, a brief history on the nature of English as the official language of the nation, a brief overview of the legal actions related to the same; and any incidental information that is deemed relevant pursuant to the nature of the research intentions.
In the advocacy against the proponents of having English as the official language of the United States, some have suggested bilingualism (two official languages), remaining without an unofficial language, and even an unrecognized language called ‘American’ as evidenced when “in 1923, Illinois officially declared that English would no longer be the official language of Illinois - but American would be. Many of Illinois' statutes refer to "the American language," (example: 225 ILCS 705/27. 01) though the official language of the state is now English (5 ILCS 460/20). ” (USConstitution.net, 2001a, para. 10). The proposition of bilingualism will not work because it still requires the financial strain and government accommodations regarding printed materials and translation services that failing to have a designated language is causing now; albeit on a smaller scale, but still an unnecessary scale. Remaining without an official language entirely is completely ludicrous simply for the reason that the people should be able and need to come to a common ground on the topic. Failure to agree only kills the fiscal state of economy more and more each day and creates unnecessary work and requirements that need to be complied with. Accepting an entirely new language, “American,” is not practical because of all the legislation this would result in both immediately and in the long-term. Details of the language would seemingly need to be clarified, enacted and made “official” in many ways before simply becoming the Nation’s language.
“The number of persons in the United States over the age of five who speak English less than very well soared from 14 million in 1992 to 24.5 million in 2007,' a whopping 175 percent increase. Although Spanish is the non-English language spoken most frequently at home, there are more than 300 single languages or "language families" used in the United States,” as stated by Steven M Kahaner (2009, para 1). As a result, everything including, but not limited to, “the costs of hiring bilingual teachers, printing bilingual textbooks, translating every government website into multiple languages, requiring every agency and department throughout the entire United States to hire translators and/or print materials to ensure that any person, speaking any language, can receive government services in their language of choice” (English First, 2009a, para. 1) are costs that burden all the taxpayers in the nation. The actual amount that these services results in, but it is estimated to be enormous! Consider this number is also reflective of “motor vehicle office’s, police stations, post offices, courtrooms, welfare offices, social security offices, perhaps, even prisons, and all those other places where a non-English speaking person might receive services provided in his or her language of choice.” (English First, 2009a, para. 5) “In the federal courts alone, interpreted events (defined as one interpreter, one case number, one date) have been increasing steadily over the past decade, from approximately 100,000 in 1996, to 232,457 in 113 different languages in the 12 months ending September 30, 2007,” as stated by Steven M Kahaner, quote ( 2009, para 1). A bill was introduced by Congresswoman Virginia Foxx of North Carolina, H.R. 1414 known as the Multilingual Services Accounting Act, that “requires every federal agency's Chief Financial Officer (CFO) to start including detailed accounting information for all of its multilingual services in their mandatory annual reports to the Directors of each federal agency AND to the Director of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB).” (English First, 2009a, para. 9)
“Declaring English the official language means that official government business at all levels must be conducted solely in English. This includes all public documents, records, legislation and regulations, as well as hearings, official ceremonies and public meetings. ” (U. S. English, Inc., 2010a, para. 1) Failure to declare the English language as the official language of the United States has had an enormous fiscal impact on the economy resulting from the financial drain that the same decision forces through the necessity of multilingual communication accommodations within all levels of government both locally and nationwide , as previously evidenced. Aside from financial implications, the resulting solidarity that would be established by the determination of such an official language is pivotal in the unification of the people as a nation, which is an important national temperament that is beneficial to all interested parties. As stated on USConstitution.net (2001a, para. 10) “English-only proponents…counter that English-only laws generally have exceptions for public safety and health needs. They note that English-only laws help governments save money by allowing publication of official documents in a single language, saving on translation and printing costs, and that English-only laws promote the learning of English by non-English speakers.” Jam Salter shares that, “Lawmakers recognized English as the "common" language in 1998 [in Missouri]” and “that [the] law carries no stipulations or requirements.” (Salter, 2008, para. 3) A “common” language means nothing, which is why there is carries no weight and why there needs to be a legislative delegation making English the “official” language!
It was found, upon researching the history of the topic, that Louisiana was the first state in the nation to designate English as their states official language back in 1812. The second state to follow suit was over 100 years later in 1920 and was Nebraska. Since then, 28 more states have designated English as their official language, however only 28 still have the laws in effect as the initiatives in Alaska and Massachusetts were ultimately overturned according to English First (2009b). Organizations and groups fight this battle as a whole such as “U.S. English, Inc. [which] is the nation’s oldest and largest non-partisan citizens' action group dedicated to preserving the unifying role of the English language in the United States. [It was] founded in 1983 by the late Sen. S.I. Hayakawa of California.” (Business Wire, 2007, para. 5) which “…enacted official English legislation in 1986,” as stated on U. S. English, Inc. (2010c, para. 1) While “English-only proposals in the U.S. Congress have gone nowhere,” states Oren Dorrell (2006) , legislation is still being actively pursued on both a federal and state level by supporters “because the public, including Hispanics, is frustrated that illegal immigration continues to be a problem and they want the federal government to take action,” which Jose Esparza, vice chairman of the Arizona Latino Republican Association, explains. (As cited by Dorrell, 2006, para. 17)
In an explanation on US Constitution.net, “almost every session of Congress, an amendment to the Constitution is proposed in Congress to adopt English as the official language of the United States. Other efforts have attempted to take the easier route of changing the U.S. Code to make English the official language.” (2001a, para. 3) Additionally, “in 1996, U.S. English was instrumental in passing H.R. 123, ‘The Bill Emerson English Language Empowerment Act of 1996.’ That bill, making English the official language of the U.S. government, passed in the House of Representatives with a bipartisan vote of 259-169. Unfortunately, the Senate did not act on the bill before the end of the session. Currently, U.S. English is working with Rep. Steve King of Iowa to help pass an official English bill in the 110th Congress. H.R. 997 is pending in the U.S. House of Representatives.” (U.S. English, Inc., 2010a, para. 3) Currently, on a federal level, there are nine initiatives in 111th Congress: H.R. 997 - The English Language Unity Act of 2009, H.R. 764 - The American Elections Act, H.R. 1414 - The Multilingual Services Accounting Act, H.R. 1588 - Protecting Employers with English in the Workplace Policies, H.R. 3249 - Legislation to improve English literacy and encourage citizenship and immigrant integration, H.R. 1228 - A Bill to Repeal Executive Order 13166, H.R. 1229 - The National Language Act of 2009, S. 992 - The National Language Act of 2009, and S. 991 - The English Language Unity Act of 2009. (U.S. English, Inc., 2010b) “Since 1981, over 50 bills have been introduced supporting English as the official language of the United States... sponsors, eight have exceeded 100, including H.R. 997 in the 109th Congress. Five of the measures have passed one chamber of the U.S. Congress, by margins of 78-21, 76-18, 259-169, by unanimous vote, and most recently 62-35 in the U.S. Senate in May 2006.” (U.S. English, Inc., 2010f, para. 1, 3) On a state level for California, “there is no legislation pending in the 2010 session of the legislature that would strengthen the existing measure” when “[it] enacted official English legislation in 1986.” (U. S. English, Inc., 2010c, para. 1) An interesting tidbit, as stated by Salter is that “U.S. English says the Missouri ballot issue [back in 2008] marks the ninth time that voters in a state have been asked to make English the official language.” (2008, para. 18)
Interestingly enough, in spite of the lack of a decisive answer being made with regards to the official language either way, “a new survey this week from Rasmussen Reports finds that 87 percent of Americans favor making English the official language of the United States. This is a 3 percent increase over a similar survey Rasmussen Reports conducted in May 2009.” (U.S. English, 2010d, para. 1) Furthermore, “the same survey showed that 83 percent of respondents believe that companies should be allowed to require their employees to speak English in the workplace. This support is backed by 95 percent of public sector employees and nearly seventy percent of government workers.” (U.S. English, 2010d, para.2) The researcher has concluded that history continues to be evidentiary in determining the popularity and increasing support of this controversy and the sway of the people as a whole towards English as the country’s official language which as shown by “polls over the last 20 years [finding] overwhelming support for making English the official language of the United States.” (U.S. English, 2010d, para. 4)
Consequently, findings dictate that complacency is not the answer and the people need to answer a call for action by deciding on an official language for the nation. As stated by Haar, “English is in a sorry state in America...Legislators and citizens fiddle; meanwhile, a language languishes and vanishes.” (2009) It is obvious that by a popular vote of the people determining an official language of the United States, the financial strain alone that is caused by lack thereof could dramatically affect the economic status of the nation, for the better. The ensuing government employee wages and tangible costs incurred (associated with printing, translation services, and more) as a result of complying with a multilingualist nation, by default not choice, forces on the taxpayers and economy a far worse state than a decision on the same could ever invoke. As U.S. English, Inc. states, “Official English legislation contains common-sense exceptions permitting the use of languages other than English for such things as public health and safety services, judicial proceedings, foreign language instruction and the promotion of tourism.” (2010a, para. 2)
As stated by U. S. English, Inc., “Official English promotes unity…Official English empowers immigrants…Official English is common sense government.” (2010e, para 2, 3, 4) Ultimately, it is only a “lose-lose” situation to not have an official language in the United States. The “Official English legislation recognizes the need for common sense exceptions permitting the use of other languages for emergency, safety and health services; judicial proceedings; foreign language instruction and tourism promotion. Of course, because official English is only a limitation on government, it does not affect the languages spoken in private businesses, religious services or private conversations.” (U. S. English, Inc., 2010e, para 5) The effects that the general population are concerned will not really change, but merely save the country millions of valuable dollars in compliance funds that could be designated to areas that have a more prevalent need. It is unreasonable for the people to not agree and vote for English as the official language of the United States! “America has a long tradition of immigrants learning English and it has always been our cultural bond. It’s time for politicians in Washington to finally listen to the eighty-seven percent of Americans who want this and vote to make English our official language.” (U.S. English, 2010d, para. 3)
Constitutional Topic: Official Language (2001a). USConstitution.net. Retrieved on October 4, 2010 from http://www.usconstitution.net/consttop_lang.html
Dorell, Oren. (2006, November 17). English as official language gains support at local levels ; Backers say laws help immigrants to communicate, avoid self- segregation :[FINAL Edition]. USA TODAY ,p. A.4. Retrieved October 21, 2010, from ProQuest Newsstand. (Document ID: 1164217921).
Georgia Voters Indicate Strong Support for Official English Amendment. (2007, 15 August). Business Wire. Retrieved October 21, 2010, from ProQuest Newsstand. (Document ID: 1320847301).
How Much Does America Spend On Multilingual Programs? (2009a). English First. Retrieved on October 4, 2010 from http://englishfirst.org/congressc/how-much-does-america-spend-on-mulitlingual-programs.html
Kahaner, S.. (2009). The administration of justice in a multilingual society-open to interpretation or lost in translation? Judicature, 92(5), 224-231. Retrieved October 21, 2010, from Research Library. (Document ID: 1731361091).
Legislation. (2010b). U.S. English, Inc. Retrieved on October 4, 2010 from http://www.us-english.org/view/310
Legislative History (2010f). U.S. English, Inc. Retrieved on October 21, 2010 from http://www.us-english.org/view/27
News & Media, Support for English as official language grows three percent in one year. (2010d). U.S. English, Inc. Retrieved on October 4, 2010 from http://www.us-english.org/view/774
Official English States. (2009b). English First. Retrieved on October 4, 2010 from http://englishfirst.org/englishstates/
Salter, Jim. (2008, October 5). Amendment would require English. St. Louis Post - Dispatch,p. E.2. Retrieved October 21, 2010, from ProQuest Newsstand. (Document ID: 1567755781).
Sanford-Haar, Cathleen. (2007, March 19). English the official language? Not in America :[Third Edition]. St. Louis Post - Dispatch, p. B.7. Retrieved October 21, 2010, from ProQuest Newsstand. (Document ID: 1237740991).
State Legislation – California. (2010c). U.S. English, Inc. Retrieved on October 4, 2010 from http://www.us-english.org/view/364?state=CA
What is Official English? (2010a). U.S. English, Inc. Retrieved on October 4, 2010 from http://www.us-english.org/view/9
Why is Official English Necessary? (2010e). U.S. English, Inc. Retrieved on October 4, 2010 from http://www.us-english.org/view/10________________________________
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