Imagine a country, or even a community, without a language policy. Imagine trying to learn, shop, or even pay bills in a community where there was no official language. It would be chaotic. Language underlies all the processes of a working system and community and without uniformity those break down. Many countries have what is termed a national language policy resulting from a need to “forge a linguistic bond between dissimilar peoples and facilitate efficient communication, administration, a degree of cultural unity, and thereby strengthen the state’s power against outsiders” . While there are nations that encourage and/or support language diversity, the United States, a melting pot of nationalities, could not function economically without a common linguistic thread. Although there is no official language policy, the United States does operate on an implied English only policy .
When the founding fathers wrote the Constitution a language policy was not entertained, or most likely deemed necessary. Colonists were Anglo Saxon and throughout the decades government has accommodated different nationalities by making laws and proceedings available to its constituents in a variety of languages . While English in the United States has morphed from the formal British English of the 1700s to American English of today, it has been the implied official national language since colonization. The power invested in the states has allowed them to either adopt uniformity or diversity and there are both, even today. Historically there have been occasions where states have enforced English only as a means to exclude certain ethnic groups from employment but such restrictive policies were quickly reversed. Fear during war has often lead to unprecedented language debate but it is important to note that language diversity has been here since colonization and has survived over two hundred years of accommodations and restriction, all the while English has remained the linguistic bond that brought diverse cultures together. “While the number of minority language speakers is increasing [as a result of increased immigration], so is the rate of linguistic assimilation .
In a country that has always celebrated ethnic diversity, inviting immigrants to its shores, the move to adopt an official language policy has failed at various times . Although language diversity has been accepted, the reality is that English is, and will be, the unofficial language for education, commerce, and government. Linguistic uniformity is necessary in these areas for the nation’s processes move and progress as necessary, however accommodations are made to ensure access for non-English speakers. Consider a classroom where the teacher only speaks German, a quarter of the students only Spanish, two speak Hindi, one speaks Hmong, and the remainder, English. How would the students understand instruction? How would they understand each other? Bilingual classrooms exist in the United States today and ESL is common, but without a common linguistic thread students cannot learn. That is not to say that multicultural linguistic opportunities should be ignored. They should be embraced and students provided the opportunity to become linguistically diverse, but for the purpose of learning basic knowledge and conducting daily business functions there is a case for uniformity.
The United States has always retained a strong military force and its members are both native born Americans and naturalized citizens. There is language diversity among the military family however the business of US military forces is conducted in English. Imagine troops deployed to Afghanistan trying to carry out their missions if the commanding officer spoke only Spanish, several members of his battalion only Italian, one spoke Pashto, and the remainder English. While the Pashto speaking team member would be able to understand the conversations and intelligence of Afghani locals, he wouldn’t understand his commander. Communication between the team would be impossible. In reality this could never happen because effective communication is vital to the functioning of a team. Effective communication is vital to learning, government, and commerce.
The examples above might seem ridiculous but they are meant to highlight the importance of the need for a common linguistic thread, whether implied or mandated. The USA has an implied official language. Such a position has worked for over two centuries. To enforce an official language through government legislation would be akin to denigrating all other languages and the cultures they represent.
- Crawford, James. The Official English Question. 1997. 27 February 2017. http://www.languagepolicy.net
- McAlpin, K.C. “History of US Language Policy.” 2012. US Inc. 27 February 2017. http://usinc.org/
- US Educational Language Policy. 2017. 27 Febuary 2017. http://www.cal.org