Last winter, Utah's Legislature debated the advisibility of designating English as the state's official language. The issue was killed, but not before reporters had a bit of fun with it.
It seems ludicrous, on the surface, that the question should ever be raised.Of course, English is our official language. In Utah, our business and social intercourse is conducted in English.
Those who speak other languages no doubt speak those languages in their homes and among their particular ethnic groups, but when they deal with matters outside the home, they must rely on English.
I was content to leave the matter there, but have read something in the meanwhile that makes me think I need to think it through again. (h, the human frailties that plague me. I find I frequently change my mind about things of which I was thoroughly convinced).
Utah was not alone in considering English as its official language in the past couple of years.
Thirty-seven states debated the issue in 1987 and 30 were expected to either repeat the debate or initiate it during 1988.
There is a national initiative to amend the U.S. Constitution to establish English as America's official language. It was first introduced in 1981 and has been a joint resolution in each succeeding Congress, but has never had sufficient support to bring it to a vote. Utah's Sen. Jake Garn has been a sponsor.
The concern, according to a position statement by the National Education Association, is that acceptance of English as the primary or only language for Americans would water down efforts to promote bilingual classes and other language-related efforts in America's schools.
Congress has provided special funds to help non English-speaking Americans and alien residents to integrate themselves into the mainstream.
Would those funds be lost if adoption of an official language gave tacit support to the notion?
The NEA believes both teaching and learning would become more difficult.
Teachers might feel no incentive to learn the languages spoken by their students in areas of high ethnic concentrations and students from these groups might be discouraged from retaining their native speech as a second language.
America has historically been a melting pot. The diversity of its people has contributed to its strength. Our immigrants have brought richness of custom and strength of character as they left their own homelands to partake of American freedom.
We have not yet closed our borders to emigrants from other countries, and we should not try to close the doors prematurely on the ethnic background they bring with them.
While wisdom and custom give precedence to English as our most commonly spoken language, and the one accepted universally as the one Americans speak, there is no need to legislate that convention.
Giving English the strength of law as our official language could provide tacit consent to dilute programs that help immigrants assimilate into American society.
They face an uphill battle as it is. Let's not make it any tougher.