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Old February 1st, 2012, 04:01 AM   #1
1772
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The problem with a country of many languages...

http://takimag.com/article/la_torre_de_babel

An article that explains the problem with several languages, something I try to talk about here.

(the article is free, so there is no copyright infringements)

Quote:
La Torre de Babel

Alejandrina Cabrera was born and raised in America and graduated in the 1980s from the same Arizona public high school as former UFC heavyweight champion Cain “Brown Pride” Velasquez. On Wednesday a judge in Yuma County—a flat, sun-murdered vacuity in the Grand Canyon State’s dusty southwestern corner—ruled that Cabrera does not possess the rudimentary English skills necessary to serve on San Luis City Council.

A video of Cabrera’s court appearance reveals a woman with a weaker grasp of Inglés than even José Jiménez, Speedy Gonzales, or the Frito Bandito:

Prosecutor: Where did you go to high school?
Cabrera: In 1986.
Where at?
In, um…in 1983.
Excuse me—I asked you when—where did you go to high school?
[Pause] Yes.
What school?
After, uh, high school, um, I went to college.
And where did you go—
[Judge Nelson interrupts]
Nelson: Just a moment. Mrs. Cabrera, you can step down. You can go back there.

The judge had heard enough. In his ruling that disqualified Cabrera from eligibility to run for a seat on the San Luis City Council, Nelson pointed to a “large gap” between Cabrera’s “basic survival English” and the level of aptitude required to perform her duties. “It was clear to the court that she was stymied by many questions, did not understand many questions, failed to comprehend what was being asked, and guessed at answers,” Nelson wrote. Cabrera’s lawyers appealed Nelson’s ruling on Friday and are expected to file an appellate brief today.

“Although E Pluribus Unum sounds nice in theory, it tends not to work in practice, especially when one emphasizes the Pluribus at the Unum’s expense.”
Arizona has become a bellwether for what will likely be America’s grandest cultural divide of the 21st century: the demographic struggle between Anglos and Hispanics, two groups that are split along a seemingly intractable linguistic rift. Arizona is home to an ongoing immigration dispute that has pitted the governor against the president. The state recently outlawed a “Mexican-American Studies” program that was deemed to encourage Hispanic resentment against Anglos.

In 2006, Arizona voters overwhelmingly passed a measure that made English the official state language. Although the United States has no official lingua americana, a recent poll shows that two-thirds of Americans prefer that English be legally enshrined. In last week’s GOP debate, sour-tempered silver gnome Newt Gingrich said he favored making English the official national language.

This has all fallen on deaf ears in the heat-wilted border town of San Luis, AZ, probably because nine out of ten residents speak Spanish at home. The 2010 US Census pegged the city’s population as slightly over 25,000, with a decisively dominant 99% of its residents being Hispanic. (The quotient was less than 90% in 2000.) So as someone who’s fluent in Spanish but only possesses “survival English” skills, Cabrera would adequately represent her local constituency.

Whether she and her native tongue represent Arizona (still less than a third Hispanic) or America (still only one-sixth Hispanic but expected to grow to about one-third by 2050) is the sticky matter. Cabrera may become the Rosa Parks of American bilingualism, and the humble courthouse in which she’s waging her battle may one day be remembered as La Torre de Babel.

Some will reflexively smear the “English-only” crowd as “haters” who only seek to divide our nation. It’s worth noting that such indefatigable accusers-of-hatefulness constantly trumpet America’s differences in terms of ethnicity, gender, sexuality, religion, and politics, and never in a way that fosters unity. Rather than cheering for assimilation or common ground, they eagerly whip up division and resentment along such lines, always taking whatever side they perceive in their dimwitted romanticism to be the underdog. Operating from the implausible premise that diversity tends to unite rather than segregate, they have now seized upon language as another continental divide, attempting to argue that if we passively sit back and allow language to separate us, it will somehow bring us all together.

Others contend that language—even more than religion and ethnicity—is the primary agent of cultural cohesion. “A common language is the glue that holds a people and a nation together,” Senator S. I. Hayakawa once stated. In an infamous rant called “I Have a Plan to Destroy America,” former Colorado Governor Richard Lamm said that endorsing bilingualism would “make the United States a ‘Hispanic Quebec’ without much effort.”

People always say that if we’d lost World War II, we’d all be speaking German. Linguists who specialize in “language conflict” such as George Hempl and Daniel Abrams & Steven Strogatz propose that language is a zero-sum game. They argue that when languages are forced to “compete” in the same territory, there’s usually a winner and loser, though the winner may loot a few of the loser’s catchphrases in the process. According to a 2008 report compiled by scholars in Spain and Finland, “In all cases, a final scenario of dominance of one language and extinction of the other is obtained.”

Throughout history, this has been the case—languages such as Gaelic, Welsh, and innumerable North American tribal dialects all ultimately surrendered to English. In Central America, Spanish snuffed every language in its path. Even reputedly successful bilingual and multilingual nations such as Canada and Switzerland seem to merely host disparate monolingual areas that exist in a perpetual state of mutual unease.

Perhaps more than military might, Latin was the primary tool in establishing the ancient Roman Empire. Some speculate that Rome eventually lost its grip on Byzantium because Latin was never able to overcome Greek as the Eastern Empire’s main trade language. And when the Roman Empire finally collapsed, Latin itself became Babelized into separate languages such as French, Italian, and Spanish. So whereas multiculturalists propose a gloriously harmonious patchwork quilt, history predicts a bloody fight to the death.

Although E Pluribus Unum sounds nice in theory, it tends not to work in practice, especially when one emphasizes the Pluribus at the Unum’s expense. The European Union was founded on the same sort of starry-eyed unity-through-diversity claptrap that now infects the United States. Ironically, its home base is a place where the French-speaking Walloons and the Dutch-speaking Flemish can’t even agree that a nation called “Belgium” exists.
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Old February 1st, 2012, 04:31 AM   #2
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So your saying we should all just start learning to speak Mandarin then? :P
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Old February 1st, 2012, 04:43 AM   #3
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"If we lost the revolutionary war, then we would all be speaking English!"
--Steven Colbert

Last edited by CalleOchoGringo; February 1st, 2012 at 04:58 AM.
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Old February 1st, 2012, 05:03 AM   #4
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I dont think this is an issue at all. Most Hispanics by the second generation speak English well and by the third generation, almost exclusively. They are going the way of every single other immigrant group that came here before them so whats the big deal? In this country if you want to make a good living, you learn English. If you have kids, they are going to be educated in English, talk to their friends in English and more than likely have English become their primary language when they get married and have kids.
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Old February 1st, 2012, 06:18 AM   #5
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Don't you think Miami is a example of that not being true? You can be pretty well of here and not be good at english.
The same is true about parts of south Cali aswell.

And it will be more and more the higher the number.
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Old February 1st, 2012, 06:25 AM   #6
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Living in Miami for almost 20 years I know plenty of people that speak more than 2 languages, always 1 of them is English, it's that so bad?
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Old February 1st, 2012, 01:36 PM   #7
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Quote:
Originally Posted by 1772 View Post
Don't you think Miami is a example of that not being true? You can be pretty well of here and not be good at english.
The same is true about parts of south Cali aswell.

And it will be more and more the higher the number.
Miami is weird in how fervently some hold onto Spanish, but even in Miami if you speak only Spanish, you will generally not be well off. There are people here who are well off who speak only Spanish but most of them had money before they came here and if they decide to settle down here, their kids will learn English.

If you think about it, how many good-paying jobs in South Florida require speaking only Spanish? Not many. While bilingual is seen as a definite plus, me speaking no Spanish is much more likely to come away with a good job then someone speaking only Spanish. Employers are going to look for things like college degrees and to get those anywhere in this country you need to be able to speak English.

Sometimes its forgotten but English is the most taught language on Earth. Its the international language of business, aviation, diplomacy, education, etc. When people in China, India, Europe, the Arab World or Africa learn a second language most of the time its English. If a few people come to Miami and dont want to learn English, whatever, I dont care. They can spend their lives in a 20square mile radius doing that. Its foolish, and ultimately its unsustainable, but thats their right.

The problem with the data is assuming that more Hispanics uniformally means more Spanish. But its not about the total number, its about each generation. The stats show that each generation speaks less Spanish and more English. It might be hard to notice it in Miami, where the majority of Hispanics are first and second generation, but it can be seen elsewhere. Alot of my friends are second or third generation and as they disperse to other parts of the country, they arent bringing Spanish with them. And as more Hispanics marry non-Hispanics (another generational level stat) Spanish, much like Yiddish, Italian, German, Polish, etc. is spoken less and less. And while it will hold on for awhile because of sheer numbers and new arrivals, it wont ever threaten English's role in the US.
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Old February 1st, 2012, 04:22 PM   #8
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This was an interesting read. Thanks for posting. I think, generally, if you want to succeed in Miami, you have to learn English. Lower-income Miamians face obstacles learning English and often live in Spanish-only enclaves, but then again, that's a large reason why they're lower-income. You’d be hard-pressed the find many middle-class Miamians who don’t have a solid command of English, particularly second and third generation Hispanics. The exceptions to this are the many wealthy Latin Americans who do not learn English because it is not a necessity for them to do so, as they do not rely on the local economy for their income and well-being.

An interesting counter-example to the article is contemporary Italy, where Italian (really Tuscan) was pushed on the entire peninsula following unification. Today, most Italians speak Italian at home, but the common language still hasn’t resulted in a very strong national identity or common culture. Despite speaking a common language, prejudice and discrimination stemming from cultural differences still block many opportunities for Southern Italians, who remain far poorer than their northern paesani.
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Old February 2nd, 2012, 02:03 AM   #9
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Nice to see us having a civilized debate.

Now that is progress I'm rooting for!
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Old February 2nd, 2012, 02:04 AM   #10
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Quote:
Originally Posted by PeterSmith View Post
This was an interesting read. Thanks for posting. I think, generally, if you want to succeed in Miami, you have to learn English. Lower-income Miamians face obstacles learning English and often live in Spanish-only enclaves, but then again, that's a large reason why they're lower-income. You’d be hard-pressed the find many middle-class Miamians who don’t have a solid command of English, particularly second and third generation Hispanics. The exceptions to this are the many wealthy Latin Americans who do not learn English because it is not a necessity for them to do so, as they do not rely on the local economy for their income and well-being.

An interesting counter-example to the article is contemporary Italy, where Italian (really Tuscan) was pushed on the entire peninsula following unification. Today, most Italians speak Italian at home, but the common language still hasn’t resulted in a very strong national identity or common culture. Despite speaking a common language, prejudice and discrimination stemming from cultural differences still block many opportunities for Southern Italians, who remain far poorer than their northern paesani.
No need to be poor in a country where ANYONE can be a cruise ship captain...
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Old February 2nd, 2012, 11:21 PM   #11
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Alexdw85 View Post
If a few people come to Miami and dont want to learn English, whatever, I dont care. They can spend their lives in a 20square mile radius doing that. Its foolish, and ultimately its unsustainable, but thats their right.

I wouldn't go so far as to call it foolish or unsustainable (especially in Miami), but I fully agree that it's their right. I'm very much a free market-er when it comes to language, even though I only speak one myself. I think it makes our city and metro stronger over time.
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Old February 2nd, 2012, 11:28 PM   #12
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It's absolutely foolish
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Old February 2nd, 2012, 11:35 PM   #13
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It's absolutely foolish
ehhhh... it's not like buying a new car. Languages are hard. Unless your a professional, it's not likely to make a terrible amount of difference.
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Old February 2nd, 2012, 11:42 PM   #14
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I can see either "side" on that issue (not even trying to learn the language) but ultimately it's hard to not view people like that as basically shooting themselves in the foot and 'ghetto-izing' their existence to the margins. I know it exists in Miami (and elsewhere) but I don't think in huge numbers, fortunately.

If there's a local language issue that really needs more attention it's probably that so many folks who think of themselves as fully bilingual actually speak and write ineptly in both! I'm not sure they even realize it.

"Donde esta el vacuum cleaner" and "Yo voy el Southwest" are not examples of bilingual proficiency!
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Old February 3rd, 2012, 02:20 AM   #15
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...and I was just about to say...

"megusta mojitos in all hours de la dia..." !!!!!!!!!!!!
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Old February 3rd, 2012, 04:30 PM   #16
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Quote:
Originally Posted by theEmbarcadero View Post
No need to be poor in a country where ANYONE can be a cruise ship captain...
It is true that Francesco Schettino was a southern Italian. Clearly, his place of birth nor his incompetence prevented him from acquiring one of the cushiest jobs in the universe. Perhaps it is a land of equal opportunity/buffoonery, after all.
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Old February 4th, 2012, 04:23 AM   #17
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I assure you, in 200 years all the Mexican immigrants to this country will be speaking the same language the 17th century German, 18th Century Italian and 19th Irish immigrants speak today.
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Old February 4th, 2012, 04:29 AM   #18
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ברצינות חבר 'ה זה נושא הולך לשום מקום. אני לא מרגיש שאני לומד שפות חדשות מקשיב לכל זה.
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Old February 4th, 2012, 04:36 AM   #19
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Quote:
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It is true that Francesco Schettino was a southern Italian. Clearly, his place of birth nor his incompetence prevented him from acquiring one of the cushiest jobs in the universe. Perhaps it is a land of equal opportunity/buffoonery, after all.
Hey Silvio Berlusconi got a chance to be prez didn't he? Fortunatly Mario Monti looks much more competent so far.
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Old February 4th, 2012, 07:18 AM   #20
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Quote:
Originally Posted by CalleOchoGringo View Post
ברצינות חבר 'ה זה נושא הולך לשום מקום. אני לא מרגיש שאני לומד שפות חדשות מקשיב לכל זה.
הסכמתי
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