Opinion, Thoughts on an Official Language

I am multi-lingual. I speak some Japanese and a little-used dialect of Italian. As a New Yorker I also have picked up a smattering of the major local language subgroups.

For fluency and daily usage I restrict my endeavors to American English. This is because I want to be understood by all. People who want to be understood by me use English too. This is an assumption by all that English is our common language.

A hundred years ago my grandparents got off the boat and learned English. They were assimilating in the land of their choice. Actually they never became real good at their new language but they did become passably fluent. Their children were bilingual, but the next generation lost their ancestral language capabilities. Very few of us can speak Italian. The same is true of my wife’s family, none of whom speak Romanian, German, Russian, or Yiddish. We feel that this is no big deal. I was recently told that this was bad and wrong and terrible. You see, I have lost my cultural heritage and my ties to the old country. Italy is a wonderful country and I should glory in its culture and renew my heritage daily, for that is my identity. All people should do this. I could do it if I moved back to Italy. But I am not Italian; I am American, albeit of Italian descent.

Let us be honest here; my folks left Italy because the old country was not that good and this new country was better. The same can be said of almost all the immigrants who came here. By and large they were right, for very few did return to their native land. None of the subsequent generations ever felt the desire to spend more than a few weeks there as tourists. I would like to visit the place. Foreign countries are interesting. I have been to about fifty of them and have enjoyed most, even the ones with land mines. The key word is foreign. Italy is a foreign country to me. Maybe it is not as foreign as Ethiopia or Turkey, but it is still foreign. As for getting in touch with my roots, Italy has changed so much in the past hundred-plus years that it would be foreign to my late grand-parents if they were able to visit the place. The same can be said of my Irish or German or other neighbors.

The point of this tale is that I am American; I have assimilated to the point that I do not identify with the past. The trip to this point has not been easy for my family, some of the anti-immigrant garbage that was prevalent in the early part of the last century was pretty vile. The eugenics movement held Italians and Jews to be too stupid to function as normal humans. I like pointing this out in the graduate school lectures I give. I give those lectures in English, the common language of the class. The road to success has all of its signposts in English.

There are those who feel this is wrong. There is a theory that multiculturalism is a better way. Having visited some nations where the linguistic heritage is diverse I have noticed that there is an official language for common usage. It might not be pretty but English is the official language of India, the Philippines, and South Africa to name a few. I have also been to countries that have two or more official languages and that has led to hatred, separatist movements, and often, bloodshed. Think Canada, Belgium, and the former Yugoslavia. Maybe it is time to make English the official language here. The alternative is that we can become Yugoslavia.

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About the Author: Bob Enrione