ENGLISH SHOULD BE OUR OFFICIAL LANGUAGE
by Steve Fair
President Theodore Roosevelt said, “We have one language here, and that is the English language, and we intend to see that the assimilation crucible turns our people out as Americans.”
At last count, over three hundred different languages are spoken in the United States, but over 90% of the U.S. population cites English as their first language. While English is not the official language of the Republic, thirty states have taken the matter into their own hands and passed legislation to designate English as the official language of their state. Oklahoma is not one of them, but not from lack of trying. In the 2008 legislative session, Representatives Randy Terrill, R-Moore and George Faught, R-Muskogee, introduced HB 3349, which didn’t make it to the Governor’s desk. A Senate bill that would have sent the issue to a vote of the people was stonewalled by Senate Democrats and did not make it either.
According to a 2008 Zogby poll, eighty percent of Americans favor making English the official language of the United States. In a Tulsa World poll taken last February, eighty eight percent of Oklahomans believe English should be made the state’s official language. Another poll conducted by Wilson Strategies showed eighty two percent of Oklahomans support English as the official language. It’s apparent the overwhelming majority of Oklahomans favor making English the official language in the US, yet some still believe designating English as the official language is a waste of time. Longtime CBS reporter, Bob Schieffer says, “Of course new citizens should speak English but why would Congress spend hours debating whether to make English our national language?” “Because it panders to their base and it keeps them from tackling substantial issues.” But Schieffer is wrong- this is not a petty issue. Terrill and Faught list three important reasons why English should be designated the state’s official language.
First, the state could be forced to provide taxpayer-funded service in languages other than English. According to Terrill, “there is currently no legal basis for denying someone’s request that the state provide service in another language, crating significant potential problems for the state.” In fact, the Oklahoma Department of Public Safety was threatened with a lawsuit if they did not provide the written portion of a driver’s license test in Farsi, a Persian dialect and the official language of Iran.
Second, Terrill and Faught believe that making English the official language will avoid the cost and conflict of bilingualism and multilingualism. Mauro E. Mujica, CEO of U.S. English Inc, says, “Los Angeles County spent $3.3 million, 15 percent of the entire election budget, to print election ballots in seven languages and hire multilingual poll workers for the March 2002 primary. The county also spends $265 per day for each of 420 full-time court interpreters. San Francisco spends $350,000 per each language that documents must be translated into under its bilingual government ordinance,” according to Mujica. Multilingualism costs taxpayers big bucks and those that don’t recognize it are blind.
Third, Terrill and Faught believe that making English the official language will promote assimilation for immigrants. “The government should encourage immigrants to assimilate and Americanize—and becoming fluent in English is a cornerstone in that process,” according to Faught.
Last year, after Democrats in the State Senate voted down the proposal to send the issue to a vote of the people, State Senator Jim Williamson, R-Tulsa said, “Republicans have made the Official English proposal a priority for many years. We believe the people overwhelmingly agree that English should be our official language.
Senator Anthony Sykes, R- Moore, is introducing a bill in the Oklahoma State Senate this session that would designate English is Oklahoma’s official language. Passage would require Oklahoma government at all levels to conduct business solely in English. This would include all public documents, records, legislation, and regulation, as well as hearings, official ceremonies and public meetings.
One misconception about designating English as our official language is that it would outlaw other languages. Some of the thirty-nine Indian tribes in the Sooner state initially opposed the legislation because they mistakenly believed it would force them to quit speaking their tribal language. That is not the case. Sykes’ bill would allow for individuals and businesses to use whatever language they choose and it would have exemptions for the languages of the thirty-nine federally recognized Native American tribes. English has never been the only language in America. However, it has been and should remain our primary language and the official language of our government at all levels.
Teddy Roosevelt said, "There is no room in this country for hyphenated Americans. The one absolutely certain way of bringing this nation to ruin, of preventing all possibility of its continuing to be a nation at all, would be to permit it to become a tangle of squabbling nationalities. We have but one flag. We must also learn one language and that language is English."