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Ein Reich, ein Volk, ein Englisch

The Baltimore Sun

Conservatives used to have a good deal of fun with the Baltimore city Council, which, as the city sank into poverty and disrepair, would busy itself with ineffective loony-left measures like resolutions to declare Baltimore a nuclear-free zone. Showboating. Trivializing the public's business. 

Perhaps they will be equally amused now that the guardians of the Monoglot White Male Ascendency in Frederick County, the county commissioners (all, I believe, descended from immigrants), have made English the official language there. Not content with having declared English their official language by resolution a couple of years back, they have now voted it as an ordinance. Make it so.

As Terry Headlee, managing editor of the Frederick News-Post pointed out yesterday on Dan Rodricks's Midday show on WYPR-FM, this ordinance is of gossamer significance. Having no authority to contravene federal or state statutes, the worthy commissioners can swell their breasts with pride as they point to their efforts to prevent the alien hordes from overrunning fair Frederick, but apart from that, their action has no practical consequence worth mentioning. You might call it showboating.

The commissioners' comic-opera legislating aside, there are a few points that people who are not addled by fear of immigration might keep in mind.

The most important one is that English is not threatened. English is a world language, the world language at the moment, more widespread than Latin was at its high-water mark. I suspect that even when the Red Chinese call their notes due and repossess the country we will still be speaking English here. 

Another important point is that while adult immigrants may not speak English well or at all, because learning a new language as an adult is difficult, successive generations pick up the language. The belief that immigrants are going to somehow overwhelm English is a bugaboo, useful for playing on people's insecurities and anxieties for political purposes.

Not that there is anything wrong with bilingualism. It used to be thought, at least when people in this country pretended to value education, that mastering a second or third language was an accomplishment that broadened the mind.

Finally, for the same reason that chatter about English Academies is idle fantasy, no one is going to regulate or protect English by legislation. Language goes where it will as people speak it. If English should cease to be useful to people as a world language, it will go the way of Latin, and no county commission, legislature, or parliament will halt the process. But at the moment, we have it. Let's just use it, hoping that our elected representatives may find something of graver import for their deliberations than totemic legislation.






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