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The Folly of English Only

  • Date Submitted: 03/25/2011 10:47 PM
  • Flesch-Kincaid Score: 67.7 
  • Words: 638
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The folly of English-only
by Derek Bickerton

A bigot came up to me the other day and started beating my ear about English Only. He should have known better. For us linguists, all languages are good and you can't have too many of them.
But according to him, if we allow people to use foreign languages for any official purposes, if we allow any language other than English to be used in classrooms, we're on the road to disaster. Soon there'll be fighting in the streets, and the end of our country as we know it. Not to mention the expense of having to publish all school textbooks and official documents in two or more languages.
"Well," I said. "I know one country that's had hardly any trouble, inside or out, for several centuries. And," I added, knowing this would please him, "not merely does that country allow guns--it mandates that all men of military age have guns in their homes, and ammunition, and that they be ready to use them at a moment's notice. Just like the old Minutemen."
"And of course, that's a country with just one language," the bigot said confidently.
"No it isn't," I said, 'It's got four. All official."
His jaw dropped.
"It's called Switzerland," I said. "The Swiss speak French, German, Italian and Romansh." (Romansh is related to Occitan, the old language of Southern France, and a direct descendant of Vulgar Latin). "All four languages have equal status and children are educated in whatever language is spoken in the region where they live. And that's a country so stable that everyone wants to bank there."
The bigot was silent for a good minute. "Have to get back to you on that one," he grumped. But he never did.
I could have given him an example closer to home. Look at Canada. Most Canadians speak English, but in the province of Quebec they speak French, and as linguistic nationalism swept the globe in the fifties and sixties the Quebecois got very restive. They demanded language rights, and some of them began calling for independence....


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