English has never been the single, unifying language of the United States. Since the earliest days, the colonial days preceeding the republic, English has been the predominate language but never the sole language. The country has survived, even flourished, as a polyglot society.
The English-Only Movement
is not some new phenomenon. Benjamin Franklin campaigned against speaking German in Pennsylvania in 1753. There were attempts to outlaw French in Louisana in the early 19th century. In 1851, my state of California required all landowners to prove title in English-only courts. This resulted in most Mexican landowners losing their property. In 1879 California passed a law requiring all official business be conducted in English. Shortly after capturing Puerto Rico from the Spanish in 1898, the use of Spanish was banned in Puerto Rican schools. There were many attempts to eliminate Native American languages in the 19th and 20th centuries in what has been called linguistic genocide. The reasons given then are the same as those given now. Assimilation, the noblesse oblige canard that "it's for their own good." The real reason is simple fear of another people, another culture.
Louisana - Cajun French is the most famous of the indigenous European dialects in the United States. Reviled by English speaking Protestants, the Catholic French Acadians have preserved their language for over 200 years. Once considered the mark of a Bayou hick, the younger generation is preserving the language out of cultural pride. Louisana is officially a bilingual state, English and French.
Pennsylvania - A variant of German, Pennsylvania-Dutch has been spoken in the United States for 300 years. There are over 200,000 speakers. The number is shrinking as the younger generation is not bothering to learn the dialect. Until the 1950's Pennsylvania was officially bilingual.
First Peoples Languages
There are many Native American languages still spoken in the United States. Navaho is the most widely spoken. Navaho should be a revered language to patriotic Americans as it was used by the Code-Talkers as an umbreakable code during World War II. Dakota-Lakota Sioux and Yup'ik (eskimo) are two other large populations that have maintained their native tongue. There are 28 Native American language families and an additional 25 language isolates indigenous to the United States.
These variants are so different from standard English that people unfamiliar with the dialects have difficulties understanding them.
Hawaii - Hawaiian English is the standard version of English used in Hawaii. This is English which preserves the Hawaiian pronounciation of Hawaiian words. Hawaiian Pidgin is commonly spoken on the islands. The Hawaiian language is preserved intact by the 250 people living on the island of Niʻihau.
Black English is derided by some as uneducated slang but experts agree it is a creole language blend of English and African dialects dating to before the Civil War.
Chicano English and Spanglish is neither Spanish or English but a blend of the two. This dialect is still evolving, the Texas version, Tejano, is different from the Los Angeles version.
There are several regional dialects. The New York dialect is famous. Personally, I find a deep southern dialect almost unintelligible.
Spanish (28 million) is the most common immigrant language. Chinese, Vietnamese, Polish, Yiddish, my father's Finnish, my mother's German and countless other languages have all contributed to the tapestry of the country.
I believe everyone in this country should learn English (surprise). It is the language of commerce in the United States and it is common sense to learn the language. Besides, English is a really neat language; it is, after all, the language of Shakespeare. But that is the only reason. The United States of America is a unique blending of cultures from around the globe. Like forging an alloy, this blending makes us stronger. Trying to impose some single, unitary language and culture is insane, impossible, and can only divide us.
My thanks, perversely to All Things Beautiful for getting me angry enough to do proper research. Literacy Loop has some interesting observations.
tag: english only, immigration