Column: English: national language

With a few days to go before the national boycott by illegal and legal immigrants, President Bush opined that the “Star-Spangled Banner” should be sung only in English, in response to the release of a Spanish version by British music producer Adam Kidron. According to CNN, Kidron said that his intention was not to divide the country but to unify it. It’s like an American releasing a French version of “God Save the King” in order to unify the British. It might unify them against the French, but it certainly won’t foster good will toward French-speaking immigrants wandering Great Britain.

The McCain-Kennedy bill floating around the Senate contains a provision mandating that illegal immigrants must learn English for citizenship. There exists in this must-learn-English provision a good idea that has long been brushed over – English as the national language would unite all the people of this nation under a common language.

The entire idea behind the great American experiment was not to create a nation fractioned by divided loyalties and several languages. The Founders made the national motto “E pluribus unum” – “out of many one” – for a reason. America is a melting pot, not a tossed salad, and we must maintain this mixture. This past October in France, Muslim youth rioted in Paris’ northern suburbs. By neglecting to assimilate this growing segment of the country, France assured that something like this would happen eventually.

By not making English the official language of the United States, what message do we send to new immigrants? How can assimilation be achieved if immigrants are not even pressured to learn the language of their new country?

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission holds that discrimination includes “the denial of equal employment opportunity because … an individual has the physical, cultural or linguistic characteristics of a national origin group.” Aside from assuring that immigrants never need to expend the effort to learn English, this can be an incredible cost to businesses. If an employer cannot refuse employment to a person because they speak something other than English, Azerbaijani for instance, must the employer then hire a translator to make sense of the ensuing chaos?

Perhaps the opinion of famous progressive Teddy Roosevelt can help us here. In 1919 he wrote: “In the first place, we should insist that if the immigrant who comes here in good faith becomes an American and assimilates himself to us . We have room for one language here, and that is the English language.”

Obviously many, many people would object to this quotation, raising the question of bigotry. But does it not make sense? An American immigrating to Azerbaijan could not reasonably expect to arrive and continue speaking English and fare well in his new home.

English as the national language is in no way a selfish proposal. A U.S. Department of Education report entitled “English Literacy and Language Minorities in the United States” stated, “(P)eople who spoke only a language other than English were more likely not to be employed than people who spoke English.” It also noted those not fluent in English also earn less, work less when employed and are employed less continuously than English speakers.

Why one should think that the people of the United States should be divided along language and culture lines is beyond me. English as the national language lies in the best interest not only of current residents but of new immigrants.

John Ostrowski is a junior in Communications. His column appears on Tuesdays. He can be reached at [email protected]