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Language Barriers in the United States

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Language Barriers in the United StatesThe story of the American people is a story of immigration and diversity. The United States has welcomed more immigrants than any other country – more than 50 million in all -and still admits almost 700,000 persons a year. At the beginning of this century, a Jew from England named Israel Zangwill wrote a play whose story line has been forgotten, but whose central theme has not.

It was entitled “The Melting Pot” and its message still holds a tremendous power on the national imagination.

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Many American writers emphasized the idea of the melting pot, an image that suggested newcomers would discard their old customs and adopt the American way of life. Taking into account all ethnic groups that live nowadays in the USA, there are more and more controversies concerning the status of the English language. In my opinion the problem of language barriers in the United States is exaggerated as about 95% of American residents speak English.

(King, 1997)An outline of the history of the English language on the territory of the United States will help us to understand the role of English in the US.

 The first American immigrants, beginning more than 20,000 years ago, were intercontinental wanderers: hunters and their families following animal herds from Asia to America, across a land bridge where the Bering Strait is today. When Spain’s Christopher Columbus “discovered” the New World in 1492, about 1.5 million Native Americans lived in what is now the continental United States, although estimates of the number vary greatly.

The first permanent English settlement dates from 1607, when an expedition arrived in Chesapeake Bay. The colonists called their settlement Jamestown (after James I) and the area Virginia (after the ‘Virgin Queen’, Elizabeth). Further settlements quickly followed along the coast, and also on the nearby islands, such as Bermuda. Then, in November 1620, the first group of Puritans, thirty-five members of the English Separatist Church, arrived on the Mayflower in the company of sixty-seven other settlers.

Prevented by storms from reaching Virginia, they landed at Cape Cod Bay, and established a settlement at what is now Plymouth, Massachusetts.During the seventeenth century, new shiploads of immigrants brought an increasing variety of linguistic backgrounds into the country. Pennsylvania, for example, came to be settled mainly by Quakers whose origins were mostly in the Midlands and the north of England. Then, in the eighteenth century, there was a vast wave of immigration from northern Ireland.

Thus, the major dialect areas in the USA are Northern, Midland, Southern. The nineteenth century saw a massive increase in American immigration, as people fled the results of revolution, poverty, and famine in Europe. Large numbers of Irish came following the potato famine in Ireland in the 1840s. Germans and Italians came, escaping the consequences of the failed revolutions.

And, as the century wore on, there were increasing numbers of Central European Jews, especially fleeing from the pogroms of the 1880s.In the first two decades of the twentieth century, immigrants were entering the USA at an average of three-quarters of a million a year. In 1900, the population was just over 75 million. This total had doubled by 1950.

Within one or two generations of arrival, most of these immigrant families had come to speak English, through a natural process of assimilation. Grandparents and grandchildren found themselves living in very different linguistic worlds. The result was a massive growth in mother-tongue use of English. (Crystal, 2003)  This outline of American history makes us understand the role of English in the United States and the importance of the English language as the state one.

Though it is true that the English were the dominant ethnic group among early settlers of what became the United States, and English became the prevalent American language, but people of other nationalities were not long in following. In 1776 Thomas Paine, a spokesman for the revolutionary cause in the colonies and himself a native of England, wrote that “Europe, and not England, is the parent country of America.” These words described the settlers who came not only from Great Britain, but also from other European countries, including Spain, Portugal, France, Holland, Germany, and Sweden. Nonetheless, in 1780 three out of every four Americans were of English or Irish descent.

Among the flood of immigrants to the Unites States there is one group that came unwillingly. These were Africans, 500,000 of whom were brought over as slaves between 1619 and 1808, when importing slaves into the United States became illegal. Today, African Americans constitute 12.7 percent of the total U.

S. population.According to official data fewer than 4 million of  the U.S.

residents were from Spanish-speaking countries in 1950. Today that number is about 27 million. About 50 percent of Hispanics in the United States have origins in Mexico. The other 50 percent come from a variety of countries, including El Salvador, the Dominican Republic, and Colombia.

Thirty-six percent of the Hispanics in the United States live in California. Several other states have large Hispanic populations, including Texas, New York, Illinois, and Florida, where hundreds of thousands of Cubans fleeing the Castro regime have settled. There are so many Cuban Americans in Miami that the Miami Herald, the city’s largest newspaper, publishes separate editions in English and Spanish.The widespread use of Spanish in American cities has generated a public debate over language.

Some English speakers point to Canada, where the existence of two languages (English and French) has been accompanied by a secessionist movement. To head off such a development in the United States, some citizens are calling for a law declaring English the official American language.                                                                                                                 In nineties, the United States experienced the second great wave of immigration, the immigrants came from Europe but overwhelmingly from the still developing world of Asia and Latin America. Thanks to the large numbers of immigrants arriving from Latin America, there is evidence of lingering language problems.

Thus, according the data published in 1998 in Washington Post in Miami, three-quarters of residents speak a language other than English at home and 67 percent of those say they are not fluent in English. In New York City, 4 of every 10 residents speak a language other than English at home, and of these, half said they do not speak English well. At high school cafeterias, the second and third generation children of immigrants clump together in cliques defined by where their parents or grandparents were born. There are television sitcoms, talk shows and movies that are considered black or white, Latino or Asian.

At a place like the law school of the University of California at Los Angeles, which has about 1,000 students, there are separate student associations for blacks, Latinos and Asians with their own law review journals.                                                                                          The English language has always been one of the main forces in American history and politics. In 1753 Benjamin Franklin expressed his concern that German immigrants were not learning English: “Those who come hither are generally the most ignorant Stupid Sort  of their Nation… they will soon so out number us, that all the advantages we have will not, in my opinion, be able to preserve our language, and even our government will become precarious.” Thedore Roosevelt said in one of his speeches “We must have but one flag.

We must also have but one language. That must be the language of the Declaration of Independence, of Washington’s Farewell address, of Lincoln’s Gettysburg speech and second inaugural.”                                                                                                                                               A 1975 amendment to the Voting Rights Act of 1965 mandated the “bilingual ballot” under certain circumstances, notably when the voters of selected language groups reached five percent or more in a voting district. Bilingual education became a byword of educational thinking during the 1960s.

By the 1970s linguists had demonstrated convincingly – at least to other academics – that black English (today called African-American vernacular English or Ebonics) was not “bad” English but a different kind of authentic English with its own rules. Predictably, there have been scattered demands that black English be and endangered included in bilingual-education programs. It was against this background that the movement to make English the official language of the country arose. In 1981 Senator S.

I. Hayakawa, long a leading critic of bilingual education and bilingual ballots, introduced in the U.S. Senate a constitutional amendment that not only would have made English the official language but would have prohibited federal and state laws and regulations requiring the use of other languages.

His English Language Amendment died in the Ninety-seventh Congress. (King, 1997)                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                             Some linguists call the English language “a killer language”. Thus, the Irish language was killed by English. To my mind, it proves one more time the huge potential of the English language.

Nowadays English has a status of the global language thanks to strength of American economy and, certainly, thanks to expansion of British colonial power. The United States can be regarded as a country of immigrants forced to speak English and doomed to forget their native language. Far from it, the immigrants have all the conditions to preserve their national identity.  David Crystal in his work “English as a Global Language” gives us the clauses of the Bill Emerson English language Empowerment Act which was past in August 1996 by the House of Representatives.

This act facilitates the assimilation of the new-comers and favours the preservation of their cultural roots. However, pressure of time in a presidential election year did not allow the bill to reach the Senate, and it remains to be seen how the issue will fare in future Congresses. This summary of the main clauses of the Emerson bill is based on the bill as presented to the House on 4 January 1995. It does not include any amendments introduced at the committee stage in July 1996 or thereafter.

           1. The United States is comprised of individuals and groups from diverse ethnic, cultural, and linguistic backgrounds;                                                                                                                2. the United States has benefited and continues to benefit from this rich diversity;                                 3. throughout the history of the Nation, the common thread binding those of differing backgrounds has been a common language;                                                                                 4.

 in order to preserve unity in diversity, and to prevent division along linguistic lines, the United States should maintain a language common to all people;                                                5. English has historically been the common language and the language of opportunity in the United States;                                                                                                                                6. the purpose of this Act is to help immigrants better assimilate and take full advantage of economic and occupational opportunities in the United States;                                                          7. by learning the English language, immigrants will be empowered with the language skills and literacy necessary to become responsible citizens and productive workers in the United States;                                                                                                                                            8.

the use of a single common language in the conduct of the Government’s official business will promote efficiency and fairness to all people;                                                                      9. English should be recognized in law as the language of official business of the Government; and                                                                                                                                               10. any monetary savings derived from the enactment of this Act should be used for the teaching of the non-English speaking immigrants the English language.                                     “In a series of further clauses, it was made clear that ‘official business’ meant ‘those governmental actions, documents, or policies which are enforceable with the full weight and authority of the Government’ — this would include all public records, legislation, regulations, hearings, official ceremonies, and public meetings.

The bill allowed the use of languages other than English in such cases as public health and safety services, the teaching of foreign languages, policies necessary for international relations and trade, and actions that protect the rights of people involved in judicial proceedings. Private businesses were not affected. The bill also stated that it was not its purpose ‘to discriminate against or restrict the rights of any individual’ or ‘to discourage or prevent the use of languages other than English in any nonofficial capacity’”. (Crystal, 2003)                                                                                               Many immigrants do not want to lose their roots and do not want their children forget their native language.

Linguists of the wold agree that the ethnic unity and cultural identification are defined by language. One can not but agree that to be Arab is to speak Arabic, to be Russian means to speak Russian. If we take any nationalist movement we almost always see a linguistic conflict. Take, Ukraine, this long-suffering country and its nationalists led by their president Yushtshenko who have raped the country and impose their values on it.

They want to justify the war criminals from the so-called Ukrainian Rebel Insurgent Army, they want to tear up the people from Russia, their traditional friend, brother and protector. These nationalists pathologically hate the Russian language, “great and powerful”, as Iwan Turgenev puts it, notwithstanding the fact, that the greater part of the country speaks Russian, practically all its southeastern part, economically most developed in addition. The nationalists proclaim the Ukrainian the country’s only official language. At almost all schools and institutes the pedagogical process is conducted in Ukrainian, nobody is interested in the desire of parents and students.

In my opinion, such forced Ukrainization   can not be successful. The situation in Ukraine is opposite to the situation in the United States, where as mentioned above almost all residents speak English and where the English language is the official state language. Though our country was made by immigrant, and became one of the most powerful countries with strong economy and industry thanks to people belonging to different ethnic groups, I agree with the words of Theodore Roosevelt who said that “We have room for but one language here, and that is the English language, for we intend to see that the crucible turns our people out as Americans, of American nationality, and not as dwellers in a polyglot boarding house.”                                                                                                                                               Today the English language is considered as a global one.

The world of languages gives a glaring demonstration of inequality. Some languages give better opportunities to success and enrichment than others. Every language has a certain investment appeal: some languages are more attractive and some less. According to some estimates 90 % of the current some 6.

000 languages will have died out by the end of the century. In terms of culture it would be a tremendous loss. However one must be a realist and face up to the inevitable. We may like or dislike English, but we must recognize the fact that English has already ensured a future for itself in the United States as well as in many others countries.

Politicians may be forcing people to speak the language with a poor investment potential, they may even declare the language to be the only state language, but what they prove by it is their poor educational backgrounds and deplorable reading habits. Life does not obey political slogans. It has its own laws. We have to adjust ourselves to the realities of life.

English is certainly bound to survive and flourish.;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;ReferencesCrawford, J. (1998). Language Politics in the U.

S.A.: The Paradox of Bilingual Education. Social Justice, 25(3), 50+.

                                                                                                     Crystal, D. (2003). English as a Global Language. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press.

                                                                                                                       King, R. D. (1997, April). Should English Be the Law? Language Is Tearing Apart Countries around the World, and the Proponents of “Official English” May Be Ready to Add America to the List.

The Atlantic Monthly, 279, 55.                                                                                  Macneil, R. (2005, January). Do You Speak American? “Well, Butter My Butt and Call Me a Biscuit”; a Documentary on the English Language as Spoken in the U.

S., Is Airing on PBS. USA Today (Society for the Advancement of Education), 133, 18+.                                        Ricento, T.

; Burnaby, B. (Eds.). (1998).

Language and Politics in the United States and Canada: Myths and Realities. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Cite this Language Barriers in the United States

Language Barriers in the United States. (2017, Mar 16). Retrieved from https://graduateway.com/language-barriers-in-the-united-states/

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