American Language

1 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.

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5 Responses to American Language

  • Yellow Fever Avenger says:

    May I opine that the authour only requests the sticker inscribed in Vietnamese for the purposes of seducing our women with promises of larger penial intrusion. I implore on you behalf of the asian male, please stop attempting to over-pentrate our women. Stretching good girls is a no-no.

    • Daniel says:

      While I reälize that you're one-sixteenth Japanese (or are you an eighth?), and that the Japanese state once made claim upon Indo-China, including the women thereöf, I'm a bit surprised to read you referring to those of Viet-Nam as our women. At the very least, this is very impolitic.

      In any case, I have no designs upon any of the women of Asia. And, if I did, my designs would not entail penile intrusion, except perhaps for reproduction.

  • Two interesting notes in comparison to Mexico. In Mexico, when you vote, you get your hand stamped. This is not done so much in the name of Nationalist pride, but more to descourage people from attempting to vote multiple times (which would be caught very quickly anyhow).

    The other thing: Mexico has no National language. I'm quite proud of that.

    • Daniel says:

      Mexico has no one official language, and la Ley General de Derechos Lingüísticos de los Pueblos Indígenas looks like an attempt to be inclusive and supportive of a multilingual society, but that same ley is rather problematic.

      It refers to lenguas indígenas [indigenous languages]; and, while (in Artículo 2) it defines these quite broadly, to include languages having taken root after the formation of the federal state, none-the-less this definition excludes whatever languages are deemed no arraigada.

      Artículo 8 declares

      Ninguna persona podrá ser sujeto a cualquier tipo de discriminación a causa o en virtud de la lengua que hable. [No person shall be subject to any type of discrimination on account of the language that he or she speaks.]

      which might appear to protect speakers of non-indígenas languages. But, even if this artículo is indeed interpretted to include non-indígenas languages (and not just those with which la ley seems exclusively concerned everywhere else), since el artículo refers to cualquier tipo de discriminación [any type of discrimination], it would seem to include exactly the same sort of discrimination to which some Anglophones in America object. It would seem, for example, that, under this ley, a shop in Mexico could not have its signs and notices overwhelmingly in some non-indígenas language (as it otherwise might if it were situated in a new community of immigrants), and so forth.

      • Well, we could go on about the weird and often ambiguous Mexican Constitution for months, but there are plenty of signs here in Chinese (some more recent than others what with the silent yet noticable new immigration of Chinese here), so my guess is that people choose to interpret language as a right rather than a requirement, descrimination aside. For example, public schools do not teach any language except for Spanish until middle and prep school, where they offer English (and that might vary from region to region). But your interpretation of Article 8 would certainly protect the State government from being forced to teach a language other than Spanish.

        Obviously, a lot of Mexico's current Constitution was framed with the intent of protection of indigenous cultures that predated the Spanish conquest.

        Plus, much of enforcement here seems to be common sense. For example, try convincing someone from the U.S. that prostitution is, in fact, illegal in Mexico. While many large cities (including Tijuana) do not prohibit prostitution under their guidelines (in certain areas and subject to mandatory health screenings), it is still, in fact, illegal.

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