Saturday, May 06, 2006

English ONLY?

Lately, Americans (the real Americans from the US) have united to demand that English be the national language—the language of the national anthem and the language every citizen must speak to if they are truly patriotic. As a teacher of English for over 30 years, I may have some advice I can offer.

First, most people born in this country are not speakers of Standard English, at least the English in the hundreds of grammar books used in classrooms monitored by No Child Left Behind. Take a trip to New York, Boston, Kentucky, Memphis, Miami, Los Angeles, or New Orleans. I believe that the diverse discourse you are likely to hear is why this president and this Congress have instituted the English testing standards mandated by No Child Left Behind. In fact, the President’s own “nucular” and other ungrammatical gaffs indicate that Texans have a lock on a new, more American English. I suspect we ought to revise the national anthem to begin “Oh, say canya see ..”

As far as the anthem goes, we may want to ask how many people in this country actually know the words of the national anthem. Ever listen to people around you at a baseball or football game? From what I hear, most of us could use a printed copy and a pronunciation expert. The song has just too many words we don’t use anymore, and no one I know says “proudly we hail” on a regular basis.

More to the point, we ought to consider the reality that the national anthem was composed nearly a century after the Constitution was written. If we really want to stick to tradition, shouldn’t we find a song written in language more similar to the Queen’s English spoken by Jefferson, Franklin and Washington? After all, isn’t our patriotic duty to figure out exactly how our Founding Fathers spoke? Let’s get back 200 plus years to a time when automobiles, telephones, and airplanes didn’t pollute our America with new fangled notions of connecting all people and cultures. The Founding Fathers didn’t need to worry about language since the elite status of citizenship didn’t include Native Americans, slaves, or women.

If we still believe a national language is so critical to our country, perhaps we should follow France’s lead. The French have a department of language, complete with language police to protect the purity of the French language and culture. We could use another Department of Something, especially since FEMA is about to be eliminated. As a Katrina refugee, I could use a full time job. I’d be happy to move to the White House and give the President a few lessons, maybe even a multiple choice grammar test or two. After that, we could train language police to monitor Congress, State Houses, City Councils, and School Boards. While we’re at it, let’s require every voter to pass a high school exit exam in the English language as a prerequisite for exercising the right to vote in this democracy that we call the United States of America.

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