Dr. Goodword’s Language Blog

The US National Language

National languages are no big deal. Why the issue keeps arising in this country I find bewildering.

I’m not sure what a national language even is. The term is often used in referring to an official language, the language or languages in which all official documents must be written in order for them to be official.

The US has always had a default official language since all laws and other official documents are written only in English. Other languages are required in special circumstances, as in court proceedings, company procedures, and the like but the language everything must be written in to have legal impact is English.

This being the case, the English Only and English First movements are irrelevant. They will become relevant only if Spanish Sometimes or Spanish Second movements appear. (I can’t even imagine a Spanish Only or Spanish First movement.)

English is the┬ámedium that melts things in┬áthe melting pot. The idea of the US as a melting pot was a point of pride when I was growing up and for good reasons. Multicultural nations are fraught with problems monocultural societies do not face. Compare the history of ethnic conflict in the former Yugoslavia, China, Soviet Union–and Russia today–with our own history since the Indian wars settled the issue of domination (however you might feel about them). Even mild-mannered Canada with its two languages went through a violent period in the 60s and 70s.

If you examine the societies around the world today you will see that monocultural countries tend to work more smoothly and be more productive. France, England, and German are monocultural countries who have experiences only minor ethnic conflicts and many of those between immigrants and nationals. Everyone works around one dominant language and those who do not like that language for whatever reason moves on.

Those who immigrated to the US, learned the language, and joined the fray with the rest of us have always succeeded to a greater extent than those who did not merge. Yet, we have always had ethnic neighborhoods, ethnic restaurants, ethnic festivals. It has traditionally been possible to maintain your ethnic identity while speaking English.

So what would declaring English the official language change? Then why does the issue keep coming up?

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