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I snorted coffee when I read that e pluribus unim quote.

Ditto everything you just said!

Posted by Kim | June 8, 2007 9:35 AM

oui! oui! plus ca change plus c'est la meme chose! je suis a la fac? merde!

Posted by adrian! | June 8, 2007 9:36 AM

The main thing behind the "English-only" movement is bigotry, pure and simple. They feel superior to people of color and this is the cause they use to justify it. They are no different than those fighting to "protect" marriage who really just hate gay people. These laws are just cover to legislate their bigoted beliefs.

Posted by Justy | June 8, 2007 9:38 AM

The "Official English" movement is about Spanish. It's about Mexicans. Notice they never talk about those awful Russians or Somalis or even Vietnamese.

It's popular on the right to say "they aren't assimilating". But of course they are, just like the Jews and Germans and Chinese did before them. The immigrant generation speaks the native tongue; the children speak both; the grandchildren speak English. Having done a lot of newspaper research on the 19th century, I can verify that there were DOZENS AND DOZENS of German-language newspapers published all over the US, up until WWII even. The racists, as usual, lie.

The one vote story is a bit of an urban legend though. There was never any question of making German official. See

Posted by Fnarf | June 8, 2007 9:44 AM

I never thought I'd see New Braunfels on Slog! It's a nice day, should we grab a case of bud and tube down the river or hit Schlitterbahn?

Posted by Schlitterbahn!!! | June 8, 2007 9:46 AM

Soooooo... you can tell people are stupid when they disagree with you. I think that's only true when they disagree with me. Wanna fight?

And anyway, everything you said after mentioning the caller was total bullshit.

In fact there's too issues here:
1) it's ridiculous to run a country in 100 languages. It's really expensive. Do you see your beloved Mexicans or your beloved French people running bilingual countries? Only the Canadians do it. And you won't find any of them encouraging you to repeat the experiment here (not even les Québecois, who live in a province that has in fact exactly 1 seul langue officiel).
2) Having an official language is almost certainly discriminatory against those who don't speak the language.
3) MOST IMPORTANTLY, and it was THIS that that caller was referring to, the real question here is "What is the best way to help people assimilate to American society."
And honestly, referring again to the Canadian but also to any other segregated society, and myself living in a bilingual area, I'm quite convinced that de facto segregation will always exist in a society where different poeples don't understand one anothers' languages. And Americans can't learn other languages worth shit, so it just happens that other people are gonna half to learn theirs. Imagine if black people spoke a different language. They would STILL have seperate "but equal" schools, in the name of "accommodation" for their language.

In MY opinion, current American society is the world's best (or at least in the top tier) for assimilating people of other cultures. Europe has utterly failed. So I think that exactly what we're doing is what we need to keep doing, and I wouldn't fuck with anything about language law.

But still. I think you missed the crux of the comment entirely. I think he was barking up exactly the right tree, though I think if he reflected more on the fact that E Pluribus Unum has been remarkably successful over the past 220 years, he wouldn't be wanting to fix what ain't broke.

Posted by john | June 8, 2007 9:46 AM

yeah, this is retarded. plus all the people that had to take 3 years of a foreign language to get a Bachelor's Degree (who can't find jobs) will be pissed.

Posted by thecandyqueen | June 8, 2007 9:49 AM

See, John, what I'm saying is, your beliefs are charming but you're completely wrong on the historical facts. You don't actually know how assimilation works.

Posted by Fnarf | June 8, 2007 9:50 AM

I agree. The whole official language thing is just symbolic grandstanding.

Fnarf has it -- first gen Americans with immigrant parents will speak English perfectly. So everything's going to be fine. It always is. We've had wave after wave of immigrants in this country and hey, we're mostly still speaking English.

Tho' I will say that every know and then I encounter an immigrant who's been in the country for DECADES and barely speaks English. That sometimes initially strikes me as lazy. I think it's in their own interest to learn at least a little English. But then it occurs to me that it's usually older folks and it's tough for older folks - especially uneducated ones - to pick up another language.

Posted by pffft | June 8, 2007 9:52 AM

"every know and then".... ha ha

i can't write English MYSELF!!!

Posted by pffft | June 8, 2007 9:55 AM

Chris Hitchens told a funny story last night at Town Hall. Seems the 'lady governor of Texas' was asked whether the bible should be taught in english and spanish and responded "If English was good enough for Jesus Christ, it's good enough for me." It got a pretty good laugh, but I'm a little suspicious that he didn't name the responsible party.

Posted by vegetable lasagna | June 8, 2007 9:58 AM

that thing where german lost by one vote as an official language? never happened. but it certainly is a myth that never dies.

Posted by Andreas | June 8, 2007 9:59 AM

“I think that English should be the official language out of the principle of E Pluribus Unum.”

You sure that caller wasn't Josh Feit with one of his classic jokes, ala Tommy?

Posted by elswinger | June 8, 2007 10:01 AM

Um, yeah, New Braunfels is cool and Schlitterbahn is totally the best waterpark in the US, but no one there speaks German... Central Texas was largely populated by German immigrants in the mid- to late-1800's, but that doesn't mean their descendants still speak German.

Posted by L | June 8, 2007 10:02 AM

Countries that have an official language (more than one depending on the region) still have a tremendous work force based on illegal immigration. The ability to exploit these people does rest on a large part to their inability to communicate effectively, among other more complex factors. The point this post is making is that there will be no significant impact on the functioning of the state by changing the official language of the US to english. It will only make Americans look rather imperialist and xenophobic, highlighting what many people already think about the US as it is.

Posted by kate | June 8, 2007 10:06 AM


I've heard the same story told about a member of the Washington legislature as well, but I can assure you it wasn't Ann Richards who said that.

Posted by Justy | June 8, 2007 10:09 AM


You got it. Here's Snopes on the subject:

Posted by Erik | June 8, 2007 10:13 AM

Not only is the idea of an "official language" bigotted, it's completely unnecessary.

Second generation immigrants will inevitably speak English for numerous reasons, most importantly because it's in their economic interest. In Raban's Hunting Mr. Heartbreak, he describes smart and competent Korean immigrants who suddenly find themselves completely dependent on their English speaking kids to run their businesses. I once bought a watch in Little Saigon - the mom started her awkward, difficult to understand sales pitch, only to have her American-born teenage daughter roll her eyes and step in to close the close the transaction in her native tongue - English.

Posted by Sean | June 8, 2007 10:14 AM

@16: I was going to say the same thing - there's no way it was Ann Richards. CH will spit on a grave (he repeated his 'if you gave Falwell an enema, you could bury him in a shoebox' joke), but no way I'm going to believe Richards said anything that ridiculously ignorant without a video clip of it.

The question I came away with last night is why a former Iraq war hawk is now out taunting Christians and Sean Hannity (I wouldn't have been there but for the Hitchens/Hannity dustup). With the Republican party so corrupted that they have almost no issues left, I'm suspicious that someone's out feeding the 'war on Christians' fire with such fervor. He's an admitted materialist, but a 6 month tour of the south debating ministers, when's the other shoe going to fall?

Posted by vegetable lasagna | June 8, 2007 10:23 AM

As an aside, while it's fashionable (and fun!) to attribute American's inability to speak multiple languages to xenophobia and laziness, that's not entirely fair.

After living in Heidelberg as a teen, I came back to the US fluent in German. Not anymore. Our geographic isolation made it way too expensive for me to practice on a regular basis.

Posted by Sean | June 8, 2007 10:25 AM
Tho' I will say that every know and then I encounter an immigrant who's been in the country for DECADES and barely speaks English.

Immigrants who don't speak English and whose families don't speak English usually join communities of immigrants. That's why in some large cities gas station owners are all Pakistani, laundromat owners are all Korean, convenience store owners are Indian, Somalians are all taxi drivers, etc. The only resources they have are within their own language group and one of them, long ago, figured out how to run a gas station, hired other Pakistanis (the only people she knew and trusted), and it spread from there.

That's why it's very important for public schools to all teach English, at least. It's hard to solve the problem of ghettoizing first-generation immigrants, but making it easy for their children to learn English makes it so their entire race isn't isolated (by language, anyway).

Posted by jamier | June 8, 2007 10:25 AM

there is no getting around the fact that many people support english as the official language because they are xenophobic, or racist, or whatever.

that does not, however, mean that the concept of an official language is a bad idea. for practical reasons, and for the benefit of exploited workers, it is not a bad idea.

i think it would need to be implemened over time. i'd say over a 20 year period. in addition, i would mandate that americans should speak two languages fluently (and, as i've said before, i do not mean two years of high school spanish "fluent").

on a side note: the history of how english came to be the majority language (when true or a repeated myth) has nothing to do with whether or not it should be the official language. IF it were true that german was one vote away -- what difference would that make? why do people even think that story would prove anything?

Posted by infrequent | June 8, 2007 10:26 AM

@19 Maybe she said it as a joke?

One of my favorite stories of Texas politics is from Molly Ivins. When an effort to repeal Texas' sodomy law failed, two good old-boys in the legislature were slapping each other on the back, congratulating themselves for having turned back the gay horde. Richards walked up to them and said, "I wouldn't do that boys, because it Texas it's still illegal for an asshole to touch a prick."
God I miss Ann and Molly.

Posted by Justy | June 8, 2007 10:31 AM

About that name, Gitai... wouldn't "George " be a bit easier to pronounce?

Posted by mjg | June 8, 2007 10:32 AM

@6 Not just Canada. India has 17 official languages and another 43 that are widely used. Chinese is a bit of a misnomer, since there are a dozen widely spoken dialects. Hochdeutsch is the common and unifying language of Germany, but you ain't gonna hear it day to day in Bavaria, or really, anywhere outside a conference. Indigenous languages are still strong throughout Latin America, and Evo Morales grew up speaking Quechua. Indonesia has dozens of languages and dialects, but relies of Bahasa Indonesia as a common and unifying language. I had a fine time watching American PBS shows in Dublin translated into Irish. Scottish Gaelic is doing quite well, thank you, and Welsh is growing strong. In Israel, signs are in Hebrew, Arabic, Russian, and English, and one of my happiest memories of Jerusalem is the time I and some Arab kids helped a confused tourist find his way to the Jaffa Gate. The Arab kids spoke to each other in Arabic and to me in Hebrew, and I spoke to the tourist in English.
Just about every African country has a couple languages commonly spoken, and Maori is growing again in New Zealand. This one always tickles me, but not only are there dozens of languages in Papua-New Guinea, there are dozens of language families.

And finally, America has never been as monolingual as you'd think.

But you do make a good point about linguistic assimilation. The number of Spanish language theaters in California is collapsing.

Posted by Gitai | June 8, 2007 10:34 AM

What we need in this county is MORE undereducated older immigrants who can't assimilate into the dominant culture.

I like their dance and neato textiles. Not to mention the fact that it makes me feel morally superior to call others racists for not embracing the new reallignment of our entire culture and society under the guise of tolerance and diversity. I love me some good ole' self rightous indignation.

Anyone else here a "Global Citizen"?

Posted by ecce homo | June 8, 2007 10:34 AM

@24 I tell everyone, "Think guitar plus Thai food, and you'll never forget my name." It works every time.

Posted by Gitai | June 8, 2007 10:37 AM


I am with you 100%.

I can only hope the one day we are on par with Indonesia and Africa. Looks to be a good day when a man can walk down the street and see beheadings, people being burned alive, raw sewage in the streets, the effects of uncontrolled disease, and my all time favorite female circumcision.

Truly, civilization is marching forward.

Posted by ecce homo | June 8, 2007 10:45 AM

There is a Canadian joke that their national motto since the 70s has been, E Pluribus.

Posted by Vooodooo84 | June 8, 2007 10:48 AM
Fuck you, brown people! Your languages are stupid. USA! USA!
Just as a point of order, there are actually more brown English speakers across the globe than there are white ones. In fact, one of the largest polyglot countries on the planet, India, has English as an official language and has resisted repeated attempts to phase it out in favor of Hindi. The Indian constitution requires the authoritative text of federal laws and all proceedings in their Supreme Court to be in English. None of this is to say that the English Only movement in the U.S. is a good thing-- I don’t believe it is --but it’s important to recognize that statutory requirements for fluency in a lingua franca have a basic utility beyond nationalism or racial prejudice.
But shove your official language bullshit up your ass, and learn a second language.
I speak two other languages besides English, but neither of them is Spanish so they don’t do me much good.
Posted by Judah | June 8, 2007 10:50 AM

Let's not forget, in additon to ESL, there is also the need to learn American (Imperial) measurements. Learning that a pound of flour is not the same thing as a kilogram of flour, not too mention being able to read the label on the flour bag is just the reality of living in America.

But I like the symbolism behind NOT having an official langauage... it makes the country feel inclusive of all the world's cultures, even if it doesn't match up to the reality.

Posted by Phenics | June 8, 2007 11:03 AM

@27 Yeah, but, but... it's not English! Think of the children.

Posted by mjg | June 8, 2007 11:07 AM

Another perspective on this was brought to my attention by a Bulgarian friend. He thought it was absurd that so much consideration, time and money was given to the popular languages. He had to do the best he could on his own, when he came over here at the beginning of high school, and did just fine. Maybe it's an inevitable result of democracy, that the larger minorities get taken care of more, but it's something to think about.

Posted by Lythea | June 8, 2007 11:10 AM

Ok. I'm finding the New Braunfels thing a little crazy too. I'm sitting about 10 minutes away in San Marcos, TX. Someone please save me.

Posted by Monti | June 8, 2007 11:15 AM

Well, the reason that English is the official language in India is because, ironically, the language of their former colonizer is the least controversial language to use at this point. South Indians don't speak Hindi, they speak Tamil, and will fight any attempt to learn Hindi.

North Indians don't speak Tamil. And have no desire to learn.

Hence, English.

Posted by arduous | June 8, 2007 11:24 AM

I am going to rip off a comment that I saw on another blog:

"This continent has been brown for thousands of years. A couple hundred years of white control in the USA is hard to let go of, if you're white..."

And I agree that our culture is what creates the mass influx of immigrants. We are a nation built on immigrants. They will keep coming because our economy is based (and has always been based!) on cheap labor.

Posted by Original Monique | June 8, 2007 11:37 AM

I second or third or whatever the statement that the idea of an official language isn't racist. The push for an official language now that the country is teeming with Spanish speakers is racist.

I'm not certain that the U.S.'s geographic isolation entirely accounts for Americans' inability to learn other languages. The English don't seem to be much better at it, especially taking into account their superior public education system. I'm no linguist, but I would be really interested to find out if there's a linguistic or historical explanation for the dominance of English as a language.

Posted by keshmeshi | June 8, 2007 11:40 AM

"If they spoke fluent English, they wouldn’t be confined to the bottom of the economic ladder, doing the shit jobs American citizens consider ourselves too good for, or at least too good for at the wages employers are offering. (I personally would be happy to change sheets in a hotel—for $25/hr)."

Actually, there are Americans who want those low paying jobs. The problem is that employers WANT undocumented workers bc if the workers are undocumented they have few LEGAL rights. An employer doesn't have to worry about an undocumented worker asserting his or her legal rights. Don't be fooled, it is not about Americans refusing to work for low wages! Employers PREFER workers are scared to report work place violations.

Posted by Papayas | June 8, 2007 1:30 PM

keshmeshi @37:
I've heard many times from multi-lingual people that English is the easiest language to learn.

For starters, English doesn't arbitrarily assign a gender to every noun.

Posted by Sean | June 8, 2007 1:34 PM

@28 At least in South Africa, descrimination against gays and lesbians is prohibited in their constitution.

Posted by Gitai | June 8, 2007 2:08 PM

@40 So what? You care to perhaps enlighten us on some of the more interesting and recent developments on racial relationships in South Africa? Or do those contradict your implication that SA is a haven of acceptance and "diversity".

How about those progressive thinkers on the rest of the continent? According to YOUR analogy, the fact that many languages are spoken in Africa is somehow an indication on the level of tolerance or some crap. Pure eurocentric typical knee jerk leftist drivil.

Posted by ecce homo | June 8, 2007 2:38 PM


I don't think I've heard anyone claim -- in this thread or any other -- that the high number of language diversity in Africa is indicative of tolerance. If anything, it's indicative of the sheer number of separate ethnicities, cultures and societies on that continent; groups that historically haven't gotten along all that well.

Posted by keshmeshi | June 8, 2007 3:56 PM

"groups that historically haven't gotten along all that well"

And still don't, and often time language is the culprit.

This crap about how "if only americans were more multicultural and multilingual, we would be a better, more tolerant place" is just typical faux liberal white guilt.

Posted by ecce homo | June 8, 2007 4:04 PM

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