Sunday, August 5, 2007

Press one for intelligence and two for good sense

I had the opportunity this week on Sunday of appearing on the radio show of Julie Briggs, on WMTR up in Morris County. Last week, I was driving back from a gig in New York state early Sunday morning, and I was flipping the AM dial looking for Oldies station WMTR 1250 ----the show I found was Julie’s show "Ask The Experts". She had on her show an author and strong advocate for making English the official language of America, and I called in.

These are the folks who get all upset when they have to press ‘1 for English’ or if they overhear a conversation in Spanish between two people on the street, and don't know what is being said. Horrors.

I've met folks like him before, most recently a Republican on Main Street in Flemington. He believes the same thing as the book author, that “English Only” should be the law of the land. The guy I met wants to charge the Federal government with the task of eradicating the United States of any and all folks and documents who don’t speak/contain the “King’s English” [his words not mine]. I think the irony of his comment was lost on him.

I inquired of him as to whether or not all government documents and all their contents were to be now translated into English and only English. His answer: an emphatic absolute “Yes!” "Each and every one of them?” I inquired. “Yes, again”, he proudly declared, “Each and every American document and all its contents. This is America. We speak English here. Always have.”

The devil is always in the details, methinks. So, I inquired further of his "English Only" plan. "What about 'E Pluribus Unum'? That’s on our money. That’s the ultimate ‘government document’. Do we now place the translation, 'Out of Many, One' instead of the Latin phrase?"

“Latin’s a dead language. That would make no sense,”
he declared.

“'Dead language'? It’s lasted on our money all these years, though,”
I countered. "And, besides, I don’t think that Latin was named the official language of Rome. I think they just got to spread it around the Ancient World with their Roman legion of armies." But I digress.

“What about the word ‘America’?” I asked. "Our nation was named for Amerigo Vespucci, the Italian merchant, explorer and cartographer who mapped out our continent and named the land after himself." Talk about an ego!

That’s just silly,” he countered. Well thought-out answer, I thought. I was just trying to get the parameters of his “English Only” policy, I explained kindly.

"What about other legal terms in Latin?
" I asked. "Do lawyers need to change them to English now, too? Does 'bona fide' now become “good faith”? Or can “habeas corpus” no longer can be used, but “We command that you have the body” now can? How about “The Magna Carta?” Must it now be called "The Great Paper”?

Where will it all end?

Just some thoughts on the matter. Or should I say, “Iustus nonnullus sententia in res” at least until the law changes.

But for your amusement and education, here is a man from Carpentersville, Ill who is demanding that the town pass an English Only ordinance.

And he is wearing his shirt inside out. Go figure.


S. Michael Wilson said...

While I applaud your stance against inherently bigoted and narrow-minded legislation proposals like this "English Only" nonsense, I must take you to task for your needless slander of the man from Illinois' choice in clothing. Despite what you may think of the man's opinions, calling his intelligence or mental wellbeing into doubt merely because of his eclectic choice of threads is a form of discrimination that we must keep a careful watch on.

We are a nation of free thinkers and free speakers, but we will continue down a slippery slope of Garment Censorship (or Apparel Persecution, if you will). How long before we have Style Segregationists picketing to keep those with "Undesirable" dressing habits out our public schools and bathrooms? Is it really hard to imagine a future where actually Fashion Police cast official judgments upon citizens based solely on the color of their socks?

I know you meant well, sir, but please remember those immortal words: "They came for the Leisure Suits, and I said nothing. They came for the Tie-Dyed clothing, and I turned the other way. They came for the Bell-Bottoms, and I did not protest. Then they came for the Hawaiian Shirts, and I looked around, and there was no one left to speak up for me."

Chilling words, indeed.

ImprovforLawyers said...

Thanks for pointing out that shortcoming. I re-read the my post, and I regret any misconceptions about this man.

But he is wearing his shirt inside out.

Brent Putnam said...

Oh please, talk about a stretch!

You mean to tell me that you can't see the difference between "e pluribus unum" and printing election ballots in a dozen different languages? Use of the former is retained more or less because of tradition; the latter should be illegal.

Before you jump all over my use of the word "illegal" consider that in order to become a naturalized citizen of the United States, the law requires that you be able to read, write and speak English. If so, then why do we print election ballots in Chinese or Spanish?

You don't have to press 1 for Spanish in Mexico. Why is it too much to expect that those who live here in the United States communicate in English?

ImprovforLawyers said...

"e pluribus unum is retained more or less because of tradition"

Yes, I guess so ---tradition is a realistic criteria from which to judge whether or not the use of non-English phrases should be sustained. And i suppose you can apply that same criteria to the other
Latin phrases used in the law. But why not allow the same the 'tradition' to take root regarding the Spanish language for ballots? What is the harm there? And why should ballots in other languages be illegal? If you support the use of 'tradition' as a reasonable criteria for having ballots in other languages, than I would imagine you would have to examine: [1] how long ballots have been in other languages and [2] where in history ballots have appeared in other languages.

[1] Ballots have appeared in Spanish for the better part of a quarter of a century in major cities such as LA and NYC. Seems like a reasonable time period to establish a 'tradition'.

[2] Ballots in the 1910s/1920s in NY in both local municipal elections and labor union elections appeared in Yiddish, Italian, etc ---this was necessary so that the vast majority of those who had come over from Europe would be able to vote.

So, there you go ---if we are going to use the criteria of 'tradition', I think we met your standard.

Anonymous said...

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