Monday, September 7, 2015

Let's Not Speak American

Immigrants to the United States should “speak American,” former Republican vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin said on Sunday, adding her voice to a controversy triggered by Donald Trump’s criticism of fellow Republican White House hopeful Jeb Bush’s use of Spanish. “It’s a benefit of Jeb Bush to be able to be so fluent in Spanish, because we have a large and wonderful Hispanic population that is helping to build America,” Palin said on CNN’s “State of the Union.” Palin, who is popular among some U.S. conservatives, said that “a unifying aspect of a nation is the language that is understood by all” — pushing the idea that majority of the illegal immigrants in the United States come from Mexico and other Spanish-speaking Latin American countries.
I think we can send a message and say: 'You want to be in America? A, you better be here legally, or you’re out of here. B, when you’re here, let’s speak American.’
Sarah Palin
I'm afraid to think of what would happen if Sarah Palin learned how to speak English. Would the things that she says suddenly make sense?

Perhaps Americans could learn other languages, instead of insisting that the rest of the world learn English.

Anyone who has problems hearing people who came here at 40 speaking shaky English needs to imagine how well they themselves would do learning Mandarin upon moving to China at 35, or even Spanish moving to Mexico at 25. Then, imagine someone there making comments to the media about how people like you need to talk "the way we do," and bristling when public figures address you in English.

What it comes down to is this. We Americans think it's really cool when someone can speak two languages. It's great if they learned one in college or beyond. It's even cool if they speak a language we have no particular feelings about natively -- Hindi, Greek, Swahili, Albanian.

Yet somehow when someone speaks native Spanish and not-too-shabby English, or even when they grew up here and speak both languages just fine but use Spanish more with their family and friends, many Americans get uneasy. Somehow that doesn't count as "bilingual" -- that's somebody "not speaking American."
The whole idea that the American language is under threat -- I mean, think about it: really? -- is like someone calling for Americans to use soap in the shower. It's a noncrisis no one would ever think of pretending to worry about under other conditions. And it's hard not to suppose that the conditions we are actually under include a degree of xenophobia against Latinos. "Speak American" is code for "Don't be talking like those people."

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