American Language1 November 2010
After one votes in California, one is offered a sticker announcing that one has done so. In my area, the stickers are typically available in English, in Spanish, and in Vietnamese. I ask for one in Vietnamese.
There are people who want English to be constitutionally declared to be the language of America; they are stunningly wrong.
Of most immediate importance, they are wrong because, whenever anything is made a matter of law, it is made a matter of force; behind any law is ultimately a gun. There are times for laws because there are times for force; there are times for guns. But language choice is not such a time. I have only contempt for someone who claims that there is a symmetry between being
forced to speak the language of a merchant because he will not transact in another language and that merchant being forced by the state to transact in some other language, or official proceedings being legally restricted to a language utterly alien to important parties. (And my contempt extends to those who would force the use of minority languages, as well or instead of majority languages.)
Perhaps of even greater long-run importance, if a language is made an official language, the state is thereby empowered to determine whether this-or-that communication conforms to that language, which is to say that control of a language is seized by the state when the language is made official. The state develops the power to decide its grammar and its vocabulary.
America was given a foundation, however imperfect, of classical liberalism. It represents a gross violation of that foundation to tell people in what language they must express themselves, and a gross violation of that foundation to offer-up control of one of our languages to the state.
One of our languages. English is one of our languages; there are others. Any language spoken by an American is an American language. (And any name held by an American is an American name.) And there are people who don't know English who are far better Americans than those who would give that language a legally privileged position.