Friday, May 19, 2006

Bienvenidos a los Estados Unidos

As goes California, so goes the nation. And it only took twenty years.

Not content to let the marketplace push people to learn English on their own, the US Senate has voted to make English the national language of the United States of America. That's right. All this time we have had no official language, which may or may not have contributed to the US also being the fourth-largest
Spanish-speaking nation in the world.

The measure, approved 63 to 34, declares that no one has a right to federal communications or services in a language other than English except for those already guaranteed by law. It directs the government to "preserve and enhance" the role of English, without altering current laws that require some government documents and services be provided in other languages.

Opponents, however, said it could negate executive orders, regulations, civil service guidances and other multilingual ordinances not officially sanctioned by acts of Congress.

It's all part of the horse-trading and back-and-forth going on as Washington sits down and hammers out what to do about illegal immigration. The official-English bill is considered a defeat for immigration-rights advocates, but that same group won a 58-to-35 victory when the Senate killed an amendment that would have blocked eventual citizenship for future immigrants who arrive under a temporary work permit.

The bill was part of a three-pronged effort that includes hundreds of miles of border fence and capping of the annual number of guest-worker visas at 200,000.

The Washington Post had this to say about the bill:
The impact of the language amendment was unclear even after its passage. The wording negating claims to multilingual services appears straightforward. It also sets requirements that immigrants seeking U.S. citizenship know the English language and U.S. history. The amendment would require more thorough testing to demonstrate English-language proficiency and knowledge of U.S. history and elements of U.S. culture such as the Pledge of Allegiance and the National Anthem.
Being from California, I have seen how widespread multilingual services can be—not just driver licenses exams and paying taxes, but even voting. Apparently, though, little of this is expected to change.

One thing I have found interesting is the type of ways in which Korea and the United States seem to be going in opposite directions. Nothing earth-shattering, but quirky, unexpected things. For example, in the 1990s when the US government was starting to block off roads that came close to the White House to vehicular traffic, here in Seoul the roads approaching the Blue House were being opened to the public for the first time in decades. Similarly, when the school uniform craze was in full gear in the US, here in Korea schools were discarding school uniforms so that kids could "express themselves."

And now there's this: while Korea is debating whether to add a second (and non-indigenous) language as an official language (English)—and has essentially already done so in parts of the country—the US is working toward solidifying the status of the predominant language.

1 comment:

  1. I have mixed feelings about the amendment. On the one hand, making English the national or official language isn't going to have any effect on immigrants learning English. On the other hand, English is the only language in widespread use across the country and most public communication is in English; making English a national or official language simply recognizes that fact. Most of our fellow multilingual, immigrant countries in the western hemisphere, from Canada to Mexico to Brazil to Chile, have at least one official language. I think it is natural that people in a diverse country like ours, which receives 1 million immigrants a year, seek common ties to unite us as a people.


Share your thoughts, but please be kind and respectful. My mom reads this blog.