June 03, 2007

national language? official language?

At the Democratic contenders debate in New Hampshire tonight one of the questions posed to the candidates was whether or no English should be the "official" language of the United States. Only one candidate, Mike Gravel (who is he?), said it should be. Here's what Senator Obama said:
This is the kind of question that is designed precisely to divide us,” he said. “You know, you're right. Everybody is going to learn to speak English if they live in this country. The issue is not whether or not future generations of immigrants are going to learn English. The question is: How can we come up with both a legal, sensible immigration policy? And when we get distracted by those kinds of questions, I think we do a disservice to the American people.”
And right he is. Declaring English the official language will not make a single individual who doesn't speak English learn the language. It could be just a cosmetic operation -- but it could be also be the first step to taking away minority speakers' right to obtain government services in a language other than English. It would not empower anybody, but could disenfranchise many.

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