US English

Subject: US English
From: Michael Spooner <MSPOONER -at- USU -dot- BITNET>
Date: Fri, 21 Jan 1994 09:25:47 -0600

It's too easy in the discussion of English Only to overlook a certain
racism that is deeply embedded, and then to rationalize it with optimistic
talk about "survival" in the "dominant culture." Let's remember that our
dominant culture was achieved through two major holocausts in the 18th and
19th centuries--the holocaust of African slavery and the holocaust of
Native American genocide. In addition, our dominant culture indulged in any
number of mini-holocausts: against the Mexicans, the Chinese, and the Japanese,
for example.

In those days, of course, racism was a respectable tenet of European culture.
I would argue that today's language legislation is the vestige of that
respectable racism. Historically, in fact, language legislation has very often
accompanied political efforts to keep American minorities disenfranchised.

The other point I want to make is that there is a deep difference between the
experience of immigrants and minorities. When your ancestors were dragged here
as slaves, or snuffed out in their own territories, or acquired as part of a
deal between governments, and when this was sanctioned by the civilized
English-speaking citizens of a "dominant culture" that is structured explicitly
to keep your people out of power, then your relation to that culture and its
language is going to be different. The immigrants (among whom were my
ancestors, too) often left very difficult, even hopeless, situations to come to
America. But they came on their own, and they fully believed that things would
be better--maybe not for them, but at least for their children. The immigrant
embraces the dominant language (and often language legislation) because they
see it as a potential source of success. And they're right--for them. But the
minority rejects it because they see it as a historical source of oppression.
And they're right, too.

English, yes. Only, no.

Michael Spooner
<mspooner -at- cc -dot- usu -dot- edu>

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