The United States and Official Language

Categories: PoliticsRhetoric

I tried to walk into this paper with an open mind. I came into it already of the opinion that no America should not make English the official language. I had never given the question the amount of thought that I should have given it, to say I have an opinion on the subject. So I engaged in a few conversations with people whose opinions I respect. These people were from, what I thought, were of different sides of the argument.

I searched for articles or websites that would give me an idea of other arguments in favor of the subject. I was hoping somebody out there could change my mind. I actually enjoy being given an opinion that will change my mind. To me, this tells me that I am still able to keep an open mind. Keeping an open mind is something I question more and more about myself as I get older and the roots of my opinions grow stronger.

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When I walked away I felt as though I now had enough points of view and differing arguments to put together my own opinion. What I came up with was nothing different. I still believe that there is no need for Official English. Not only that there is no need but also that it could do more harm than help.

As I tried to decide for myself whether America should adopt English as the official language I had to start by asking myself a few questions. What does it mean to make English the official language of the United States of America? In searching for the answer to this question I come across proenglish.

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org, a website for an organization that advocates to make English the official language of the United States or as they refer to it Official English. Proenglish.org says “Having English as our official language simply means that for the government to act officially, or legally, it must communicate in English. It means the language of record is the English language, and that no one has a right to demand government services in any other language.”

I now must ask myself another set of questions. Why should we make English the official language of the United States? What is the point of making English the official language? One of the argument’s that I have come across in my research is that making English the official language of the United States of America would save the government money. In an article from The Washington Post, Brandon Brice writes.

“There would be savings; official English would save billions in federal spending. The direct cost of translators and bilingual education alone are billions, and many of these costs are born by local governments. In Los Angeles in 2002, $15 million, or 15 percent of the election budget, was devoted to printing ballots in seven languages and hiring bilingual poll workers. Los Angeles county hires over 400 full-time court interpreters at a cost of $265 per day. In 2000, President Bill Clinton signed into law Executive Order 13166, which forces health care providers who accept Medicare and Medicaid payments to hire interpreters for any patient who requires one, at the providers’ own expense.”

At first I was understanding and agreeing with this argument. As a thought about it a little more I have to believe that this is not true. Let us imagine that with Official English we can now eliminate the need to produce forms in different languages. Doing this does not cut down the number of printed forms that are needed. To cut the number of forms that need to be printed stays the same, because the number of people needing the services that these forms are for, stays the same. All you are really doing is increasing the number of forms needed in English. This same theory applies to the thought that the government would be able to save money not needing to employ translators, or bilingual education. Now all you have done is moved the need. You no longer need translators, but you are still in need of more employees because your current employs cannot handle the new demand. Same with the bilingual students. All you have done now is moved them on to a different class and the need is still there for those positions they have only been named something different now.

In an article by K.C McAlpin for the website Proenglish.org, he writes about empires and nations through history, “But the goal was always the same – to forge a linguistic bond between dissimilar peoples and facilitate efficient communication, administration, a degree of cultural unity, and thereby strengthen the state’s power against outsiders.” This brings up another reason I have found that is used to push the Official English agenda. Official English will help to unify the United States. I disagree and would have to argue against this point. Different languages being spoken throughout the country does not unite us or pull us apart as a country. What I see as not allowing us to unite, or pulling us apart as a country is the idea that we need to be better than those around us. We have a problem with conceit. If we were able to lose our conceit and accept each other as different but not as some lower class citizens, we would be able to find a sense of unity that would not require us naming an official language as a false form of unity. If we were to make English, our official language we would just move on to another measurement to hold ourselves above others and think of those others as not equal. If we are made to feel as though we are not as good as another than we have no need to feel a part of that group. We will only be able to find unity once we are able to stop treating our fellow citizens as lower class citizens.

You then have to ask yourself the question about a person’s right. If we were to adopt Official English would a person’s rights be violated? If adopted, we are saying, for example that we do not need to provide election ballots in German. For citizens that speak or write only in German, this should be a violation of constitutional rights. But as the Constitution is currently there is no Amendment that provides people the right to vote no matter of language. Someone might be able to argue that the right would lie under the 15th Amendment, but that could be a stretch. The 15th Amendment says that one’s right to vote cannot be denied based on color or race. We cannot tie race or color to language spoken. So without being able to tie language to race or color there is no constitutional protection for someone who speaks German allowing them the right to vote. This person could very well be a citizen, and should be allowed the right to vote. Without a ballot in German their rights could be denied.

I also worry about the rise of hate crimes. Abigail Hauslohner wrote in an article for The Washington Post, “Hate crimes in the nation’s 10 largest cities increased by 12 percent last year, reaching the highest level in more than a decade, according to a report released Monday by the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University at San Bernardino.”

People often take issues like the Official English issue as a permission slip. I fear that this would welcome those closeted bigots to come out of hiding and mistreat other citizens strictly because they do not speak English. I see what seems to be everyday now a video posted online of somebody berating another person strictly because they were not speaking English. These are people just going about their daily lives that are now being verbally abused for the reason they were caught speaking another language.

After all my research I was unable to find a valid reason for making English the official language of the United States. All that I was able to come up with was a feeling of fear that Official English would lead us into a direction of allowing or forgiving mistreatment of others for not speaking English. I would really like to think that my country is continually moving past the days of mistreating people for their differences and moving towards a place of acceptance.

Works Cited

  • Brice, Brandon. “Why English Should Be the Official Language of the United States” The Washington Post, https://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2014/dec/31/why-english-should-be-official-language-united-sta/, 31 December 2014
  • McAlpin, K.C. “Why English Should Be the Official Language of the United States” ProEnglish, https://proenglish.org/why-english/
  • Hauslohner, Abigail. “Hate crimes jump for fourth straight year in largest U.S. cities, study shows.” The Washington Post, https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/post-nation/wp/2018/05/11/hate-crime-rates-are-still-on-the-rise/?utm_term=.228ad8b56586, 11 May, 2018
  • ProEnglish The Nation’s Leading English Language Advocate. https://proenglish.org/why-english/. Accessed 12 October 2018

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The United States and Official Language. (2021, Oct 13). Retrieved from https://studymoose.com/the-united-states-and-official-language-essay

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