ENGLISH ONLY except for…

David Chartrand

David Chartrand

Conservative Americans continue to resent a nation that forces them to live in the same community with people who cannot speak clear English. The extent of the oppression is measured by the number of times a lunch order gets screwed up in the Burger King drive-thru lane.

To counter this unrest 28 states have passed laws or amended constitutions to declare English as their “official” language.  So far, such laws have been implemented with only a few hundred hitches.

It turns out the most egregious offenders are government agencies run by English-speaking folks who would never consider working at a fast-food restaurant.

For example, states with “official English” laws have refused to re-name their local cities, streets and rivers — most of which currently bear names of German, Hispanic, or Italian origin, not to mention the names of Native American tribes. Apparently, it’s been an uphill battle to push “official English” on towns like Eichelbergertown (Pennsylvania) and Versailles (Missouri).  (The residents of Versailles pronounce it Ver-SIGH.  I mention this not as clarification but explanation.)

Even the states themselves remain in noncompliance.  Arizona, for example, persists in using a state motto that reads,  “Ditat Deus.”  Some defend this cheerful expression as the official pep chant at Arizona State University football games.  (Ditat!  Ditat! Gooooo – Deus!). Personally, I think they are kidding around.

English also is the official language in Colorado, whose official state motto is “Nilsine Numine” (“Nothing Without the Deity”). Not a bad motto until one considers that Colorado’s official state fabric is the “plaid tartan.” Among the fabric’s dominant colors is “red,” which was incorrectly assumed to mean “Colorado” in Spanish. The mistake was allowed to stand, however, after John Denver refused to re-title his hit song to, “Rocky Mountain Rojo.”

Hawaii, considered the home of the official-English movement, emblazons its official motto on its official state coin:  “Ua Mau ke Ea o ka ‘Āina i ka Pono.”  I could find no translation but assume such a  motto requires a rather large coin, which could wreak havoc on soda vending machines.

The ultimate irony of  the official-English movement is that such laws do not apply to people; they apply to institutions, namely, the documents and records published by local and state governments. Needless to say, achieving clarity in documents written by lawyers is harder than it sounds. America’s
 rugged, pioneer tradition of plain speaking has never caught on with the
 legal profession, which is why routine emails from a law office are followed 
by more disclaimers and warnings than one finds in child custody settlements.

If real estate transactions complied with official-English laws, the seller would sign a piece of paper that says, “It’s my house. I’m selling it you. Pay me $215,000.”  If anyone out there has signed such a document, please notify us right away so we can hire the lawyers involved.

Most disappointing has been the failure of official-English states to frame school finance laws in language average taxpayers can understand. Just imagine a nation in which school teachers would never again be told that their salaries are determined, “…
by deriving an amount for each such district from a linear transition between the average amount per pupil computed under Article 2 and the average amount per pupil computed under Article 3.”  (An excerpt from the statutory wording in Kansas, whose official motto is Ad astra per aspera, a popular Latin greeting that means either “Progress through heavy breathing” or “An aspirin per day.”)

Despite these setbacks, pro-English advocates remain undaunted.  A Washington, D.C. lobby group known as “U.S. English” devotes itself to “preserving the unifying role of the English language.”  Its February “Member of the Month” — identified as Joyce B. of Farmington Hills, Mich. — summarized the concern:  “If we have no official language, how will our historical documents be written?”

The group’s campaign literature includes a somber photograph of two children — hands across the heart, faces toward the flag — reciting: “I pledge allegiance to the bandera de los Estados Unidos de Amerika …”

The photo caption asks:  “Will it come to this?”

It’s chilling when you think about it.

Here’s hoping that proponents of “official English” will turn their attention from passage of laws to enforcement.  Until then, the rest of us can only dream about day when such laws are applied to the IRS.  Or our auto insurer. Or the person who wrote the instruction manual for our new riding lawnmower.



© 2014, David Chartrand

David Chartrand writes humor and commentary from his home in Olathe. • •

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