Sunday, February 16, 2014

What About Languages in Addition to English?


The United States on the national level has no single official language.  However, 28 of the states explicitly name English their official language.  One state, Hawaii, names Hawaiian as its other official language, New Mexico gives special status to Spanish; and Louisiana the same to French.  Every one of the states has linguistic minorities residing.  Five states are de facto bilingual.

For 43 of the 50 states, the seond prevalent language is Spanish.  See this Wikipedia article.

However, in seven states the second most prevalent language is not.  It's French in Louisiana, Vermont, Maine, and New Hampshire.  It is German in North and South Dakota.  And it is Tagalog in Hawaii.  And there's a lot of languages spoken by small numbers of people.

We have a few minority languages in the United States that are steadily decreasing in the number of speakers, so that they are in danger of becoming extinct.  When this takes place, is some of our national patrimony lost?  Some would argue that it is; that these languages should smehow be preserved.  We don't have that problem with Acadian French in Louisiana, but Louisiana Creole does seem to be declining in number of speakers, especially in New Orleans.

We have something of a schizophrenic attitude collectively when it comes to languages other than English.  On one level, most prep high schools encourage at least two years of foreign language study, primarily one of the Western European languages (Spanish, German, French, and sometimes Italian).  Very few schools offer Chinese, Japanese, Russian, or Arabic, despite their increasing importance in foreign relations.  And there's the classical languages: Latin and Greek.  Yet most graduate programs have dropped reading knowledge in a foreign language as part of their degree requirements.  (A little degree requirement slippage.)

As for everyday speaking, there are some militants that go with the stance, "Dammit, they're in the U.S. of A.  By God, they ought to speak English!"  As if it is any business if I address someone who is knowledgeable of French or Louisiana Creole in the tongue that they understand.  We must remember that the United States when being formed was not an empty space: it already had people residing in some states that were speaking French, Spanish, Native American languages, Aleut, Tinglit, Hawaiian, and even Dutch.  This is a carryover of the historical perspective that American history happened with the 13 colonies, and the other states served as bit players, except during the Great Unpleasantness (1861-1865). 


[Just as a prank, I would like to hack some telephone automated answering sequence and change it to: "Press one if you want it in Louisiana Creole, two if you want it in French, three if you want it in English, and Four if you want it in Spanish."  That would twist the FOXsters panties into a knot!]

Whatever, there are a lot of people that speak a language in addition to English.  And whatever you do, don't treat them like they are cute dogs that have an interesting trick. 

"......You speak Aleut?  How cool.  Say something clever in Aleut."
Sometimes language can be entertaining, though.  California, with English as its official language, has a locally-derived language, Boontling.  It's spoken around Boonville by some, primarily as a novelty.

Having squawked enough, I'll end with a prayer in Louisiana French Creole:

Nouzòt Popá, ki dan syèl-la
Tokin nom, li sinkifyè,
N'ap spéré pou to
rwayomm arivé, é n'a fé ça
t'olé dan syèl ; paréy si la tèr
Donné-nou jordi dipin tou yé jou,
é pardon nouzòt péshé paréy nou pardon
lê moun ki fé nouzòt sikombé tentasyon-la,
Mé délivré nou depi mal.

Amen.









11 comments:

TexWisGirl said...

i can attest to second language dying out. both of my parents were raised speaking their ancestors tongue (german for one; bohemian for the other). in our home, we spoke english.

i do hate that the native american languages are disappearing. they are a treasure.

Duckbutt said...

It's a shame that some people are so defensive about other languages. I remember being fussed at by someone because I wore a "Semper ubi sub ubi" sweatshirt, why wasn't English good enough?

Grand Crapaud said...

How much everyday impact does naming English or any other language as an official state language have on everyday life? It's not like in Quebec, where there are specific laws that state that signs must be in French only.

Grand Crapaud said...

How much everyday impact does naming English or any other language as an official state language have on everyday life? It's not like in Quebec, where there are specific laws that state that signs must be in French only.

Mike said...

Here's Google Translates' translation of your prayer....

Nouzòt Popa, who is in heaven
Tokin nom, it sinkifyè,
We expects to rate
rwayomm arrival, and we will make CA
t'olé tooth heaven neighbor if the silences
Donne our jordi dipin also blackboard days
Pardon and forgiveness nouzòt péshé neighbor
after men are nouzòt sikombé tentasyon grounds
May delivers us from evil.
Amen

You need to get with Google and update their translation database.

Banana Oil said...

It's Spanish in Florida, or maybe it's a Cuban variant. Sort of a gentle sound to it.

Big Sky Heidi said...

A big problem we have with foreign languages in America is that we have few opportunities to practice one.

Cloudia said...

Yes! many regional dialects, and native languages are endangered.

Tagalog, Japanese, Samoan, Korean, I - even Hawaiian, we can hear them all here! And the visitors bring French, Russian......etc



ALOHA from Honolulu
Comfort Spiral

=^..^= <3

John Hill said...

I remember the ssying--If you speak many languages, you're multi lingual. If you speak two languages, you're bilingual. If you speak only one language, you're American.

Bilbo said...

I speak German fluently, know a little bit of Russian, understand some Spanish (learning it from the bilingual signs everywhere), and took three years of Latin in high school (two of them trying to get out of Latin I). Speaking another language is a wonderful thing, although most Americans are clueless in that regard ... John's comment is spot-on.

Bilbo said...

I speak German fluently, know a little bit of Russian, understand some Spanish (learning it from the bilingual signs everywhere), and took three years of Latin in high school (two of them trying to get out of Latin I). Speaking another language is a wonderful thing, although most Americans are clueless in that regard ... John's comment is spot-on.