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Part I: What I Already Knew/What I Wanted to Discover
Why English-Only Legislation? Truthfully, I chose to write about it because I had some previous exposure to this topic in my Human Geography class. In this class I studied human behavior in terms of the distribution of culture regions, interaction between cultures and external forces, and relationships between cultural traits and the physical environment. From what I remember, one of the hottest topics and debates for which I had to prepare my speech by the end of the semester was on English-Only Legislation. My other task was to research and write an abstract paper for the book "English-Only Question" by Dennis Baron which opposes the English-Only movement and thinks it is bad idea. To give background to my readers, in the beginning our country was a melting pot as we all know from history. The United States is a nation that has an inherent diversity that no other nation around the world has. Historically we are known for our willingness to accept and accommodate people of all different cultures as citizens and residents of the country without imposing them to change who they are and their way of life. Nowadays, there is a movement occurring throughout the entire country intended to establish English as the official language in the United States. My assumption is that many folks would be astonished to find that English is not yet the official language and would be fervently interested to participate and support the movement. Most people who do support English-Only Legislation believe it will create uniformity in our country are quite unaware of the impact it has toward establishing equal opportunities throughout the nation. Those who oppose the legislation consider it as a step backward for minorities toward equality. The dilemma these days lies in communication and interaction with one another. It is clear that miscommunication causes problems. An "English-Only" law will unify Americans and give all of them a common ground on which to communicate. It will reduce racial disagreements, as well as inspire new immigrants to assimilate into U.S. society and become successful. However, some see an "English-Only" movement as legislation meant to ban or restrict many other languages. Belief is that declaring English as the official language will develop many arguments over many issues involving race, culture, ethnicity, patriotism and finally, discrimination. It is unintentionally overlooked that at one time, all Americans were immigrants who typically spoke different languages besides English. Cultures rely on their languages, habits and traditions to define them. But to what degree do the words you use explain the person you are? This is a critical question in the acutely debated issue of establishing English as the official language in the United States. Is this movement to define English as the official national language only symbolic, or is it really imperative?
Hence I will hunt for valuable information about previously unknown facts and deeds throughout my entire search which I believe will help me to find the answers and to take an informed stance on one side of the argument. There are some things I already know, such as that there is a law authorizing if some business or any particular ethnic store has a sign in two languages - English must be bolded and placed above the other language if they are there. However, here in California at least, if you go to a predominantly Chinese area or Chinatown, the signs are rarely in English. Knowing these how complicated the issue is makes me more interested in the subject of English policy in the United States.
Part II: The Search
My full search took about two days. I began my research by doing some background reading from the History Resource Center - Arts & Humanities Databases in Palomar Library. That site provided me with information on the establishment of the United States as a nation and a clear concept of laws. Also, I took a look at Gale Literary Reference database, which provided me with annotation from different perspectives for my topic. I found that some articles in this database provided some valuable information on English-Only Legislation. There was a considerable quantity of articles from which I picked and chose best for my paper.
After the Louisiana Purchase in 1803 so called Patriotic American's have discussed and argued the use of other languages in the United States (Lacey 20). In 1906, President Theodore Roosevelt stated: "We have room for but one language in this country and that is the English language, for we intend to see that the crucible turns our people out as Americans, of American nationality, and not as dwellers in a polyglot boarding house" (Harris 7). Recently the U.S. Senate and President George W. Bush have tried to pursue this movement to establish English as the official language in the United States. One major group that seems to be opposing and fighting this policy is the Linguistic Society of America. In 1986 they argued, "'English-Only measures on the grounds that they are based on misconceptions about the role of a common language in establishing political unity, and that they are inconsistent with basic American traditions of linguistic tolerance" (Comas-Díaz and Amado 17). About four years ago two amendments were already aimed to declare English as the official language of the United States of America (Chavez 11). The original bill was an immigrant reform bill that faintly declared English as the official language in the United States. The purpose of this bill was not to make speaking foreign languages illegal, but to require all immigrants to learn English before becoming citizens and all official government documents to be recorded in English (Audrey 25). Also, to my surprise, English was already declared as the official language in 22 states by 1995 (Lacey 5).
Supporters of English-Only language policy claim that English is considered to be the commercial language in America. English is one language that we use to communicate in business, school and daily news. They believe it is important for our success to have a common language at the workplace in order to maintain positive morale, harmony and efficiency (Velasquez 6). When other countries are learning about us, they are taught that we speak English. Therefore, supporters feel it is imperative that we draw a line to pass English as the official language. After all, are we going to post signs in every language? Likewise, will it be unlawful to only post signs in the Spanish and not the Russian language. Therefore, how should we determine which languages are worthy of posting and which are not? Most Americans speak English, therefore, the signs should be in English and people should see that if they want to be an American, they should learn the language.
Those in opposition of English-Only legislation believe that requiring an official language in America is anti-immigrant and unnecessary. Another point here is that establishing an official language will cause discrimination across language boundaries in the workplace, school and other avenues. English-Only opponents also suggest that the movement will violate the Fourteen Amendment of the United States Constitution. The Protection clause allows that no law can discriminate any group based on specific characteristics. The Fourteenth Amendment also ensures that every individual has a right to due process of law. The English-Only policy affects these rights: "The lack of any bilingual support for non-English speaking persons in the courts precludes them from utilizing the judicial system and to assert their rights and obtain fair hearings" (Sykas 15).
Part III: What I Discovered
After completing a lot of research I found great information that helped me to have a more educated opinion, which I did not have before. Honestly, doing the research took way more time than I thought it would take. I used Palomar databases throughout, looking for articles focusing on Legislation and legal issues considering English-Only policy. While looking for information some topics that I wanted to research were difficult to find because of Palomar's limited catalog. I'm curious if maybe using search engines such as Google or Yahoo would give me different results compared to Palomar's databases. As result of this paper, I have learned to plan my research time more efficiently. Having more knowledge, I believe now that I can answer the questions which were proposed in my first part of the paper.
Before my research I assumed that English is not yet an official language in our country. It is an official language only at the state level but not at the national level. In all likelihood more states count English as an official language than the 22 listed in 1995. Earlier I asked whether or not this movement to define English as the official national language was only symbolic. After long hours of research I concluded that the drive for English language policy is mostly symbolic. Since its founding America has had its unique blend of diversity of nations, and therefore, it is illogical to require one official language. Also, English Language policies occasionally seem to mask anti-immigration sentiments which could make them problematic.
My conclusion is that people living here should speak English but we should give them some slack because it is a complex language to learn. Also we shouldn't expect others to do what Americans generally refuse to do. We think everyone should speak English but how many Americans can fluently speak even one other language? I think language requirements in schools are one of the best requirements we have. Refusing to let other languages be used really limits us and makes us more ignorant.