Sunday, January 11, 2009

Linguistic Jingoism in Nashville

Once again we have an elected public official proposing to require that government officials in his jurisdiction (in this case, Nashville, Tennessee) communicate with the public only in English.  This is nothing new; we've seen countless efforts to impose English as the mandatory community language in cities, counties, and even states all over the country over the past several decades.  But this one has a couple of interesting twists.

First, the proposal requiring communications to be in English was presented in Japanese.  Apparently Councilman Crafton, in addition to being a bigot, is also a smartass.  The Nomic player in me also notes that, should his proposal be adopted, it would be illegal to announce it, because the proposal is not in English and therefore cannot (on its own terms) be communicated to the public.  I suppose it would have to be officially translated to English first.

Second is Mr. Crafton's motivation for this proposal.  Apparently he recently visited a meeting of the California state legislature, at which he noted that several assemblymen there had interpreters at their desks, supposedly because they could not speak English.  This leads me to conclude that Mr. Crafton's true motivation is essentially racist; he (like many racists) is threatened by the increasingly large proportion of the the population in the United States that is Latino in origin, and in particular the recognition that Spanish-speaking Latinos are gaining political power in the United States.  Mandating the use of English for government communications will effectively marginalize and disempower Spanish-speaking citizens, citizens who, as much as anyone else, have the right to choose whoever they want to represent them in their respective governments.  If the majority of your constituency speaks Spanish, it's probably best if you do too. 

Bill Poser at the Language Log points out that Canada has managed to survive for quite some time despite having a national assembly, the members of which do not all speak a single common language.  He also indicates that he doubts that there is any member of the California assembly that cannot speak at least functional English, but I don't really care if that's true or not; if a majority-Spanish-speaking district elects a non-Anglophone to represent them, then I imagine whoever that is will have the sense to hire (or otherwise arrange for) whatever translation services he or she needs to effectively conduct the business of the office.

To me, Mr. Crafton's claimed reason is just the latest in a string of pretexts used by the racists behind their "English First" (or "English Only") proposals as part of their rear-guard effort to stave off their loss of political power to the growing numbers of Spanish-speaking Latinos.