24 April, 2000
Measure the value of a common language–this ability to communicate–and you will measure the value of a thread to a tapestry. Common language is a thread running through the magnificent tapestry of American society. It holds together the diversity of families and cultures in a common picture: diverse, colorful, yet unified and complimentary. Without the thread of common language, the tapestry that once portrayed a unified community will split and fall leaving one section here, another portion there, and yet another piece to be untangled by the house cat on its morning patrol of the Great Hall.
In the United States, English is by far the most widely used language, and, for hundreds of years, it has been the common bond that connects immigrants of all descent and grants them the title they have cherished so dearly–“American”. They value this title because it is a title that does not call for them to forsake all culture of their past but to gain a new culture and build one nation that spans the continent and not split it into sixty nations the size of Georgia. This unification is being weakened by the influx of non-English-speaking immigrants who no longer take measures or retain the desire to become American in language. Some of them are content to settle in areas where their native tongue is spoken not only in the homes but in the entire community allowing English to become an unnecessary luxury. This is perhaps convenient in their mind because they do not have to learn a new language, but it contributes to the division of this nation of immigrants. In 1983, Senator Walter Huddleston noted that open acceptance of English has allowed citizens and immigrants “to discuss our differences, to argue about our problems, and to compromise on solutions” while developing “a stable and cohesive society” (114). Many immigrants come to the United States to work and to build better lives for themselves. It must be realized that quality of life does not come from living at a certain location nor from working a certain job. One aspect of a quality life is unity with other human beings. Unity occurs when people not only work together but find ways to communicate with each other about their feelings, their plans, and their dreams.
Granted, we are a nation of diversity. Not everyone is the same, nor should we be. But, we should look for ways to build unity. Not to build ancient Babel again, but to learn from each other and find ways to share the values found in various societies and melt into the society of America. This is a society that has shown the world that diversity can come together and live in peace. As each is assimilated into the whole, the whole gains all the more culture and strength from the many. Yet, if we are not cautious and careful, the entire nation will suffer from the illness of disunity.
It would not suffice to declare that only English is to be used in official activities of the courts and governing houses. This would merely create an upper crust of statesmen and politicians who control the country and further separate the people from the government that is supposed to be of, by, and for them (Lincoln 1052). Other nations have done this and it has been to their destruction. For example, consider the caste system of India under British rule. The upper crust or nobility, if you will, spoke English and controlled the people. This lead to the eventual revolt and proclamation of India as its own country. Ironically, it was the English language the British leaders taught the people that allowed each individual tribe to unify with the others and create one nation out of the hundreds located across the Indian landscape. Without unity of diversity the nation of India would shatter. It is diversity of people that builds a nation. Commonality of language encourages this. No nation can be built without the common people with their distinctions coming together (“Ecclesiasticus 38-39” 158). A diverse people of talents, likes, gifts, and passions make up this nation itself. Although, only some people will be concerned with the way the government runs, each should be able to do their work and communicate their views and their needs so the nation and government work properly on a solid foundation of a unified people.
It is a matter of unity that the cry for common language is concerned with. These unified people need not forsake their past culture or even their language. Rather, they receive an invitation to lay aside individualism and join the dance of the new culture (that is born in the joining of theirs and others’) while gaining the language of the society (“The General Dance” 75). The beauty of the common language is that, once learned, they will then be able to read and understand this invitation.
Without the ability to communicate with one another, society will slide even more rapidly on the descent into the sullen silence from which G.K. Chesterton tried to revive London society (“The Little Birds Who Won’t Sing”). After the silence of individuals lost in their own worlds, comes turmoil–turmoil wrought in the kilns of misunderstandings and separation. Each language group will go it’s own way and the societal hatred of Kosovo and Bosnia will make its putrid festering on the streets of the United States. U.S. Senator and immigrant S.I. Hayakawa said,
“. . . political differences become hardened and made immeasurably more difficult to resolve when they are accompanied by differences of language–and therefore conflicts of ethnic pride.” (100). We should learn from the example of other nations and do our best to keep that thread strong in our nation.
There are idealistic bilingual educators who help propagate the opportunity for children of immigrants to rely on their own mother tongue for extended periods of time even while they are in the American education system. Unfortunately, the majority of immigrants are not located in the ideal communities that are conducive to acquisition of English. The well-intentioned bilingual education supporters ought to toss this ball of yarn to the house cat and join in the weaving of a unified tapestry that trains immigrants how to become American in location and language. Care must be given as the bilingual educators attempt to do, but educators must be sure that the concessions made for immigrants does not stunt the language acquisition process. The language thread that binds us together is growing thin. So, action must be taken to preserve this thread. This action must not make a rope that entangles immigrants and chokes their heritage out of them. Rather, it will be a thread that keeps the fabric of our nation as one tapestry displaying to the world how “one nation under God “ truly can be “indivisible” (“The Pledge”).
Chesterton, G.K. “The Little Birds Who Won’t Sing.” Epperson 152-155.
Crawford, James. ed. “Language Loyalties: A Source Book on the Official English Controversy.”
Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1992.
Epperson, William, et al., eds. Encounters: Connecting, Creating, Composing.
Dubuque, IA: Kendall/Hunt, 1994.
“Ecclesiasticus 38-39.” Epperson 157-159.
Hayakawa, S.I. “The Case for Official English.” Crawford 94-100.
Huddleston, Walter. “The Misdirected Policy of Bilingualism.” Crawford 114-118.
Lincoln, Abraham. “The Gettysburg Address.” Webster’s Third New International Dictionary.
G.C. Merriam Co., Cambridge, MA: Houghton & Co., 1963 1052.
Merton, Thomas. “The General Dance.” Epperson 74-75.
“The Pledge of Allegiance to the Flag of the United States of America.” EnCYCLOPÆDIA BRITANNICA. Online. http://www.britannica.com/bcom/eb/article/0/0,5716,61921+1+60389,00.html.
Originally written for English 305 class on 22 April 2000.