Editorial: Fear the loss of English? Relax

Published 10:17 am Wednesday, August 4, 2010

People who worry about immigrants not speaking English have little to fear.

A Minnesota Public Radio story appeared in the Tribune on Tuesday. It detailed the debate in Lino Lakes, where the City Council adopted an English-only policy supposedly for budgetary reasons. The measure brought with it ever-lasting American debate over xenophobia and how to treat new people to this country.

An aspect of the debate there involved the controversial Michigan activist John Tanton, who leads an Arlington, Va.-based organization called Pro English.

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The story said: “Tanton cautions that American culture could be at stake if European-Americans become the minority. He once warned of a ‘Latin onslaught.’”

Forget about the issue of legal or not legal for a moment. This much is true: No matter how many people from other countries move to the United States, English will remain the dominant language.

First, immigrants can get by without speaking English for low-level jobs, but as immigrant families desire to improve their standing, learning English is a must. Wave after wave of immigrants to America has proven this true.

Second, every child wants to be cool. Children pick up language more quickly than adults. English is the cool language in America and in much of the industrialized world. In a single generation, English becomes the main language in their homes. This has proven true with children of immigrants in the past, too.

Third, English is a mongrel language, acquiring its words from tongues all over the map. It should be no surprise today to hear kids blend a little Spanish into their English or English into their Spanish. It happens anytime cultures blend in this great melting pot.

“Que pasa?” is a modern equivalent of “Uffda” and “Gesundheit,” words brought here by immigrants.

Third, Americans often are hard-pressed to understand true English anyway. In England and Australia, shows offer funny clips of Americans not understanding English in England. Subtitles told American viewers what singer Susan Boyle was saying when she appeared on “Oprah,” for goodness sake.

If Hispanic immigrants speak Spanish in public, English speakers should not fear. It does not mean they are speaking of you. They probably are trying to point their mother down the correct aisle or something trivial, just like any other family.

Fear of losing culture is spurious argument. Culture always changes. It will continue to change. U.S. culture is the result of an amalgamation of other cultures, going all the way back to the Pilgrims.

And if they could see America today, the Pilgrims could reasonably claim we have lost their culture.

Yes, American culture is at stake. But it always has been. Even baseball isn’t as popular as it once was. That’s not the fault of immigrants.