So I was scanning the news feeds and I came across this article about how the Republican party is splitting in two ideological directions. One faction, the Florida Model calls for more moderate views and reaching out to swing voters. The Texas Model says the GOP should consolidate around a staunch right wing agenda as far and as differentiated from the Democratic Party as possible. But what really caught my attention was a synopsis of the 2008 Texas GOP platform, which outlines the issues the Texas Model is rallying around. Among the planks in that platform: “We support adoption of American English as the official language of Texas and of the United States.” Oh, I’m aware of the danger those tricky newcomers pose with their refusal to speak perfect English two weeks after arriving here. You take a stroll to a place like San Francisco’s Mission District where most of the billboards are in Spanish and Hey Presto! before you know it, you’re singing “La Cucaracha”. Do I even need to enumerate the insidious danger of bi-lingual instructions? Hey, I signed up for a Spanish course at the community college, so they’ve already got me.
Now granted, I’m not that educated on the issue. I was under the impression that English was the language of the United States. Correct me if I’m wrong, but isn’t all government business — from the Oval Office to neighborhood association meetings — conducted in English? If English is not “official”, it’s at least de facto. I mean, can you name me anyone who’s risen to the top of any profession here or is enjoying any sort of success who DOESN’T speak fluent English? Okay, besides Salma Hayek. Still, I foolishly thought that most immigrants were desperately trying to learn English. At least the huge crowds in the English As A Second Language classes at San Francisco Community College would seem to say so. (Although in the early stage of the classes, I’m sure the students appreciate the bilingual signs to the bathrooms. I know I do as I’m sure it’s saved some embarrassment.)
Anyway, what caught my attention was the specification of AMERICAN English. Not just English, and apparently, not Pigeon English or Australian English or Spanglish or any other flavor of English. But AMERICAN English. Okay, that’s touching a raw nerve. You think that growing Hispanic population is threatening our ability to keep speaking our native tongue? Let me tell you about the British. After nearly thirty years over here, Andy still has the plummiest English accent this side of a Merchant Ivory adaptation of an E.M Forster novel. He’s married to an American, he works surrounded by Americans. But like most immigrants, at least according to what I’m hearing from the Texas Republicans, he’s not only clinging ferociously to his language, he’s forcing native-born Americans to adapt to HIS needs. You think I’m talking just his accent? No, I’m talking a whole different language than the “American English” the Texas GOP wants to make official.
Can I tell you how many times I’ve gotten to the grocery store and stood in confusion because I can’t remember the American words for the foods Brits call Courgettes and Aubergines? It’s an outrage, I tell you.
Here’s where the Brits are far more dangerous than even those insidious Hispanics: they don’t just speak a different language, they further confuse matters with a secret subset of that language.
Yes, I’m talking about Cockney Rhyming Slang which Andy and our predominately British cast of friends lapse into without warning. You can find all about CRS here, but in a nutshell, it was an argot developed by underworld denizens of London’s famous East End to confound cops and informers. The basic premise is that you come up with a rhyme for a word. Like Apples and Pears for Stairs and Plates of Meat for Feet. Then you really confuse matters by sometimes (but not always) dropping off the rhyming bit. Thus Andy often announces it’s time for bed by saying he’s going to “take me plates up the apples to Bedfordshire”. (Bedfordshire, not being rhyming slang, but just another weird Britishism.) Now some Cockney Rhyming Slang is as quaintly Victorian as a Dickens novel. Say Syrup, which is short for Syrup of Figs (Wig), Barnet, short for Barnet Fair (Hair). Butchers, short for Butcher’s Hook (look). Put it all together and it will make your head spin: “Take a quick Butcher’s at the Syrup on that bloke. Better to have no Barnet.”
But just when you think you’ve got the hang of it, Rhyming Slang changes with modern references, which somehow all Englishmen transmit to each other by osmosis. So you have Becks and Posh for Nosh, which itself is an English slang word for food, comparable to “eats”. (And if you don’t know who Becks and Posh are, this whole post is lost on you.) The same site I referenced before has a pretty good Dick’n’Arry (Dictionary) of terms, but I still can’t keep up with it. As cute and quaint as you might find this, it’s only funny until you find yourself yelling at Bill O’Reilly on the screen and accusing him of “telling Porkies” (Porky Pies, Lies). Or, worse yet, understanding when your husband talks about his “Trouble”, he’s referring to YOU (Trouble and Strife, Wife).
Yes, these foreigners must be stopped. I’m here to tell you, it’s a slippery slope and I’ve been pushed down it. My question is: what’s the enforcement? Deportation seems a little harsh for slipping into Cockney Rhyming Slang or any other non-sanctioned form of English. After all, the non-native born in my life do provide many things, not least of which is a certain amusement factor. Fines, too, would be draconian. How about a re-education program? Okay, all violators will be sentenced to American English Immersion. Since there may be some question as to what is “American” English, I say we expose them to a broad spectrum. They have to navigate Marge Gunderson’s “Ya sure, ya betcha” in Fargo, then master Valley Girl in Clueless, pick up some Southern Fried English with Billy Bob Thornton in Slingblade and take in a dollop of surfer-speak from Jeff Spicoli in Fast Times At Ridgemont High… I think you’re catching my drift. I hope all my British friends and relations are taking notes here. There will be a test. And if I have to become a Texas Republican to see this gets enforced, I’m going to do it.
Entertaining and well written (as usual).
Hmm … I think the point of the Texas GOP is that there IS NOT an “official” language for the US of A. ‘De facto’ perhaps … but it is not DEFINED somewhere that English (American or The Queens) is the language for business/government/court proceedings etc.
People that support the idea of an ‘official language’ indicate this will alleviate the cost over runs for schools/courts/hospitals … translators are not free.
Additional arguments can be made that when past migrations occurred (let’s look at the time period after WWI) the immigrants learned English quickly as a way to integrate into the country. They were moving to the US … wanted to fit in … and learning the language of their new home helped speed this along. I know this because not too far back my family found themselves in a new country (USA) and wanted to be a part of the “melting pot”. If you don’t ‘melt’ into the pot … and stay in your own communities and speak your own language … you aren’t really integrating.
In terms of pure economic sense … a person is far more likely to succeed if they can speak the “dominant” language (remember, English isn’t the ‘official’ language) of the region. Would Andy hire a Russian only speaking sales person for his US sales team? Nope. In fact … his Russian sales person speaks English perfectly well (and probably better than I do). I also recall a Japanese sales person who didn’t quite make it (and he was based in Japan) because of his limited English skills. He just couldn’t communicate effectively with the corporate office.
Having said all that … I find it interesting when I informally poll friends who have moved here from afar or are first generation Americans. There are a large percent of families that try to keep the “mother tongue” alive at home … and it seems, an equally large number of families that avoid their own language and push the kids to learn English as their only language. My thought is … keep the ‘mother tongue’ alive at home so you don’t lose your culture/roots … but learn English so you can get by.
BTW … (sorry to ramble) … before long China will be home to the largest English speaking population in the world (if it isn’t already)
PS – the Salma Hayek pic is great! 🙂
In the “good old days” like when my grandfather emigrated from Poland, you had translators. In fact, he became a court translator for the Russian, Polish and Ukrainian communities because those were some of the languages he spoke. And, by the way, he started that job when he was 12 because of his facility with language.
He was obviously a brilliant man. Yet, he wasn’t able to get the education I believe he was capable of because he landed in school at six not knowing English. If he’d started with an ESL program that brought him quickly up to speed, I have no doubts he would have entered Harvard on scholarship and graduated Magna Cum Laude.
I don’t think anyone’s trying to keep immigrants from having to learn English. And the newly arrived I see are desperate to learn it as fast as possible. Making it “official” isn’t going to change that dynamic.
I just think the reality is, when you have a “melting pot”, some people with limited English are going to be victims of crime, have to go to the hospital, need to avail themselves of government services. And you’ll probably need translators to get that done.
I think English is and always will be the language of the US (as it’s quickly becoming the International language of business, air traffic control, etc. etc.) Pretty much anyone who wants to do anything here or on an International level, needs to learn English. And quickly does.
However, as every red-blooded American male will agree, Salma Hayek ALWAYS gets a pass.
G’or blimey Lisa, what’s a trouble and strife to do with all those words out of his north and south…..buy the A to Z (Zed that is) of British English! Available from amazon.co.uk of course. How about that naughty little ditties called rugby songs? Does his Lordship burst into those as I do? It’s all part of the British recolonisation plan!
Those Brits are nothing but trouble! Love how you managed to work Posh and Becks and Selma into the debate.
Your post I Say Tom-Ay-To. He Says Tom-Ah-To. Or Why American English Must Rule. | Left Coast Cowboys was very interesting when I found it over google on Saturday by my search for hayek pic salma. I have your blog now in my bookmarks and I visit your blog again, soon. Take care.
“I can’t remember the American words for the foods Brits call Courgettes and Aubergines? It’s an outrage, I tell you.”
Ha,ha! Can you believe I still have trouble with this, even after being back in the U.S. for years. I blame it on too much British telly.
As far as Andy clinging to his accent, I know some expats here who have said that they fight tooth n’ nail to hold on to their accents and stick with British English. It’s a pride thing.