Wednesday, April 6, 2011

English Only Threatens Our Livelihood

Reading the review of "You Are What You Speak: Grammar Grouches, Language Laws, and the Politics of Identity" in last weekend's New York Times book review section and Steve Nunez article Language Law Requires Lawmakers to Speak English-Only on, the Tucson, AZ, ABC affiliate, brought to mind a couple of incidents I encountered a number of years ago both in Austria and the U.S. Both times I was chastised by people not involved in the conversation for speaking the "wrong" language with my children -- English in Vienna and German in New York. Spanish-speaking friends have encountered such boorishness much more frequently.

Besides the obvious moral issues with English-only legislation, such attempts at reigning in the U.S.'s overall multilingualism and multiculturalism should be cause for concern to us language professionals. What does it mean for court interpreters if court proceedings are only conducted in English? How many translators make government documents and forms understandable for Spanish or Chinese speakers? This is not only a political issue, it is also an economic issue for an entire profession.

Professional organizations, such as the American Translators Association, as well as language professionals outside these organizations, should therefore vigorously protest Arizona's and other states' attempts to, in effect, outlaw foreign languages. Maybe it's time to take this issue out of states' hands and once and for all declare the U.S. a country of many languages, many cultures and many religions -- at least on the federal level, if not as an amendment to the constitution.

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