Official English? Try mandatory
Arizona Daily Star
Apr. 14, 2005
The star's view:
America lags in foreign-language skills as their importance
grows. The last thing Arizona needs is to codify our failure. Let's push
State lawmakers this week are
considering whether to make English the official language of Arizona.
They could adopt measures
accomplishing this goal in these closing days of the Legislature, or they
could do what they've done already to this resurrected monster and kill it
again - then leave town.
There is a third option, one that
would move the state from embarrassment toward the forefront of economic
development and racial sensitivity. They could push a constitutional
amendment requiring that Arizona issue every document, sign and license in
both English and Spanish.
The goal would be to help more
Arizonans learn Spanish. It would cost too much to require schooling as a
matter of law, but imagine the benefit of seeing every word government
produces right there beside its Spanish equivalent. Before long, everyone
would know that you can't fight "Palacio Municipal" and that "licencia de
manejo" is what you show the officer when he pulls you over.
This option, silly as it may sound,
makes more sense than the one pushed by Rep. Russell K. Pearce. "It's time
to stand up and codify that we are an English-speaking nation," the Mesa
Republican said in an interview Wednesday. Pearce is heir to a long history
of linking status as a citizen to English fluency.
New Mexico's statehood was delayed
until, in the words of one prominent politician, "the migration of
English-speaking people who have been citizens of other states does its
modifying work with the Mexican element." In 1923, an Illinois law targeted
speakers of British English, declaring "American" the official tongue.
The history lesson comes from
sociologist April Linton of the University of Washington. In modern times,
more than two dozen states have declared English their official language - a
movement Linton ascribes more to feelings of patriotism than intolerance.
Either way, it is a backward step.
Arizona lawmakers should be in the
vanguard of encouraging all citizens to learn a second language. It would
position the state as a serious player in a global economy that lawmakers
are anxious to embrace in other ways.
Two other communities illustrate the
point. In the nation's most bilingual metro area, Miami-Dade County Public
Schools are expanding programs to help all students become literate in at
least two languages. In one of the least diverse states, Idaho, high-tech
leaders see language as one way to throw the welcome mat to people of color,
who are outnumbering whites among new engineers nationwide.
One of Arizona's "Official English"
measures seeks to immunize the effort by declaring that its restrictions do
not apply to "the teaching of or the encouragement of learning languages
other than English." If the sponsors were sincere in this, they would drop
their bills altogether.
A better approach comes from the
"English Plus," movement, which declared in 2000 "a strong belief that all
U.S. residents should have the opportunity to become proficient in English
plus one or more other languages."
Census data cited in a 2000 U.S.
Senate resolution show only 9 percent of Americans speak their native
language and another language fluently, compared to 53 percent of Europeans.
We could turn it around in Arizona -
for a start, with mandatory, two-language government documents. For a crash
course, try doing your state income taxes in the other language.
Tell lawmakers what you think through
the state Legislature's Tucson number, 398-6000.