Friday, May 19, 2006

English in US - national, common and unifying but not official

The English-language debate has been a controversial issue in U.S. politics for decades and sometimes considered as important as an amendment to ban flag burning.

Yesterday the American senate voted two amendments to the immigration reform act which proposed to designate English as the national language. (WP)
The first one (sponsored by Republican Sen. James Inhofe - OK) is intended to "preserve and enhance the role of English as the national language of the United States of America."

The second one, which a less binding amendment, declares that "English is the common and unifying language of the United States, and to preserve and enhance the role of the English language."

The "common and unifying" measure was, to Inhofe, a weak Democratic response to declaring English the "national" language, since "national" is now supposed to be taken as a code word for "official," softened to placate moderates.

It is worth noticing, however, that neither amendment will designate English as the nation's official language, which would require all government publications and business to be in English.

So what’s the point? Well, for one thing, under the first amendment, no one has "a right, entitlement or claim to have the government of the United States or any of its officials or representatives act, communicate, perform or provide services or provide materials in any language other than English." It would also stiffen the language rules for immigrants seeking to qualify for citizenship under the new legislation, requiring them to demonstrate English proficiency and understanding of American history and government rather than simply to enroll in a language class and so:

Critics said they fear the directive could lead government agencies to scale back their bilingual efforts, cause discrimination against people who do not speak English, disrupt emergency operations in communities with populations of immigrants and have other unintended consequences. (NYTimes)

We have yet to see what the final bill will say after negotiations with the House.

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