Wednesday, July 7, 2010

English Only?

Published in Lebanon Daily Newspaper ( on 7/2/2010
Recently there was a story in LDN about a suit against a little league organization due to a rule forbidding any language other than English (specifically targeting the Spanish language). This brought out all the usual “Welcome to America. Now speak English!” comments. It is to this sentiment I wish to write.

Looking back on history, very few first generation immigrants who are not already English speakers become completely fluent English. As examples I would cite the Chinese, Italians, and the Germans who all created their own sub-communities, within which they spoke their ancestral languages. The vast majority of immigrants from these waves and the current Latino wave understood that English is the language of the land and that while the first-generation many never be fluent, their children will be. However, their ancestral language is not simply discarded. It is taught in the home and used informally, much like the Germans did. Many of the people who were born in Lebanon can still remember German (the PA Dutch variant anyway) being spoken on a regular basis at home, church, or in places of business. Why should we place a burden on our new neighbors that our own ancestors have not been forced to carry?

It has been argued that the English-only rule for the little league is a safety issue. The Olympics and World Cup have no “safety issues” due to different languages. I believe that much of the “English only” sentiment is related to nosiness. As a historically rural/small town area we are used to being able to understand what everyone around us is saying and knowing their business. Now our community is changing and one of these changes includes the introduction of Latino cultures and language. However, if you were to travel to any large community, say Philadelphia, you would find that many of the Koreans are speaking to each other in Korean, the Brazilians in Portuguese, the Kenyans in Swahili, the Pakistanis in Urdu, etc., etc. Here we don’t much care for change and we don’t like not knowing what the people next to us are saying. However, we need to accept that our community is changing and that we are no longer simply a rural community comprised primarily of long established European (and some African) origins.
It is part of the glory that is America, that we bring together the beauty of the nations into a single country. This mixture is the source of our beauty and strength as a nation and we must embrace it if we are to thrive as a community here in Lebanon.
Loyal Hall