Wednesday, February 3, 2010

English only? thoughts on egocentrism

Have any of you received an email that goes something like this:

If you are reading this, thank a teacher.
If you are reading this in English, thank a soldier.

While I admire teachers and appreciate soldiers, I am completely offended by the insinuation that we take soldiers away from their families, and possibly to die just to protect our language. Really?

We fight to protect our freedoms and the freedoms of others against tyranny. To promote equality. Not to promote English. Not so say that Americans are better than any other country. I would much rather learn French, Arabic, or Mandarin if I could avoid having hundreds of young men being slain in battle.

And what is with the tide of "English Only" mentality? Are we so forgetful of history to be so intolerant of non-English speakers in America? Are we not all immigrants? Have any of us learned Iroquois, Navajo, or Crow?

Why are we so demanding that the world conform to us? Have you ever heard someone lament, "Oh, I sure wish I never learned to speak Spanish fluently. It has just messed up my life." On the contrary, learning a foreign language enriches our lives. It enlarges our perspective and makes us a more educated and understanding person.

English only? Willing to die for English?
I hope not.


Heather, Rex, etc. said...

My mom sent this reply about a very offensive email I received depicting racism as Christianity. I think it is beautifully worded:

Point out that America welcomes all and considers all men equal. The first requirement for entry into this nation is not knowing the English language. Most of our ancestors did not know English when they came. We would be without many of the great minds of the world if they were required to speak English to communicate with us. It would be good for us to learn a few other languages so we could communicate with others as most other cultures can already do. Also, Christanity is not the only moral code in existance. We could learn a lot about tolerance and respect for humanity from some other religions. Other countries have armies that fight for the freedom of their people too.

Ande said...

I don't mind that they speak their language, what I mind is that they expect everyone to change everything for them. I live in a forgien country, everything is in their language and that is what they speak, read, etc. If you want something in English, we go on base to get it, we don't expect them to change. I think that they whole point is that they should also be willing to learn the language of the country that they are moving into, everywhere else in the world does. Heck, we are learning Japanese here.

Heather, Rex, etc. said...

My father-in-law wrote this to me. I think it gives good insight to the origin of the expression:

That expression about speaking English has long since lost its original intended meaning and is a little bit over the top. You probably noticed that I am not one for bumper stickers. I am patriotic; but, I don't try to put my feelings in other people's faces. There are, however, many who do and don't even understand the origin of the phrase.

There was a time, when after being so savagely attacked by the Japanese at Pearl Harbor, people in this country were paranoid about them carrying the attack to our mainland. In Edmonds, there was a civil defense tower and people who still live in Edmonds stood watch on that tower. A Japanese submarine was reported to have surfaced inside Puget Sound and launched an aircraft that dropped some bombs. There was minimal damage; but, it generated a huge amount of fear.

When you study the manner in which the Japanese Soldiers and Sailors were trained and their behavior during that period, you will see that they were fanatical. When I left Guam in 1960 there was still one surviving Japanese Soldier holed-up in the jungle. He finally came out in 1964 - 19 years after the end of the war. For them it was a disgrace to surrender and they would fight to the bitter end against insurmountable odds rather than experience the disgrace of surrender.

During WWII families would hang a small flag in their front room window with a blue star on it representing one of their sons who was serving in the armed forces. Often, there would be very long periods between when you would hear from your loved ones and all of the fear and trepidation that went with that prolonged separation would build. When someone was killed in action, the military would send a representative to the home to present the bad news and in many cases it was delivered by a telegram. We don't use the telegram method any more.

When the death of a Soldier, Sailor or Airman took place during WWII, the blue star was replaced with a Gold Star. As I write this I am overcome by the emotions that must have gone along with changing the flag. I have met a number of Gold Star Mothers and heard their stories. There is no joy in losing a loved one.

The implication of the expression was that we are fortunate to be still speaking English in America instead of the possibility that we could be speaking Japanese if they had won. In truth, the Japanese Empire had no aspirations of conquering our mainland; but the fear back then was very real and was widespread. 9-11 again opened those fears of being vulnerable.

I understand the raw emotions that would have caused someone to come up with a bumper sticker slogan like that and I can't fault them for that; but, perhaps it is a little out of context today and perhaps shouldn't be all over the web and bumpers.