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Since the country's founding, English has been an important language in America, and it has continued to play an important role in uniting the ethnically diverse American people. In their respective posts, Talk the Talk and Language Politics and American Identity, Eric Miller and Jack Citrin elaborate on this subject. The two writers make similar claims and make similar cases for and against English officiating in America. However, Miller counters this point, while Citrin only supports diversification as a complement to English. Talk the Talk is an essay by Eric C. Miller aimed at bringing knowledge to the issue of activism and, as a result, making English the official language of the United States. The main reason for the policy is to prevent immigration from exerting influence on American culture and life that is seen as a threat to the stability of the country. The advocacy for the policy has over the years been driven by the desire to 'turn our people out as Americans, of American nationality, and not as dwellers in a polyglot boarding house' as described by President Theodore Roosevelt (Miller). He further explores the validity of the policy, and whether English speaking émigrés will be truly treated as true Americans if they master the language.
According to experts such as Robert D. King, a linguist, majority of the citizens, i.e. approximately 94%, already accept and speak the English language in their official communication, hence making legislation unnecessary. According to the author, the law is meant to curb the growth of rising Mexican-American population as was with the Germans and other Europeans immigrants. The article offers an in depth analysis of the topic through the eyes of people familiar with the matter such as the banning of Ebonics adoption in Oakland's school curriculum. Critics argued that the adoption of Ebonics would prevent the black community from getting employment opportunities in the formal sector (Miller). It, according to the author, is bigotry, since other dialects of English spoken in places such as Georgia, Wisconsin, and Texas are seen in a different light. The author opposes suppression of the cultural identity of minority populations, as it fosters an environment of resentment, since they are perceived as being inferior.
In Language Politics and American identity, Citrin explores how the English language has been integral to the unity in the United States, in which many of the first citizens were ethnically diverse. The author begins by exploring the linguistic conflict present in America brought about by immigration, initially non-English speaking Europeans, and currently by the Hispanics (Citrin 99). Citrin argues that English is a uniting factor and essential for one to progress in America, which is the reason many third generation immigrants are monolingual English speakers. During the 1960s, many of the minorities living in the U.S called for the integration of their languages into American culture; the activism paid off with the adoption of the Bilingual Education Act in 1968.
The bilingual program was, however, not a success with the results being the alienation of immigrants since speaking in their original languages made assimilation into American society more difficult. This failure, according to Citrin, is the reason why only three states are yet to consider laws favoring English as their official language. The call for legislative reforms was initiated in 1981 by Senator Hayakawa through the English Language Amendment, which failed as well, though it continues to be presented in Congress with little success (Citrin 98). Those proposing the bill cite historical evidence in explaining the divisiveness, and that it will arise out of linguistic diversity which would mainly affect the political climate of the country (Citrin 109). The proponents also argue that promotion of the original languages of immigrants is more oppressive than assimilating English, since it confines them to speaking economically underprivileged linguistic communes. The author, who is a proponent of adoption of English as the official language, clearly explains the advantages of having a common language will have in promoting a common American identity.
Both articles address the issue of making English the official language in the United States citing similar perceived advantages and disadvantages of such a move would have on the multi-ethnic American society. The articles share a similar view on the present widespread use and acceptance of English as a medium of official communication and how the suggested legislation is not essential for it increases racial tensions. Both authors present the activism to make English the official language legally as emanating from xenophobic sentiments brought about by immigration into the United States. In his article, Citrin states that 'the interplay of the political and demographic changes in the 1960s ushered in a new era of conflict over language' (97). It carries a similar message to what Miller states, 'It has become impolitic to attack a rising Mexican-American population on purely racial grounds, but it remains acceptable to criticize 'illegal immigration', policy and language standards'. While authors are supporting different sides on the issue, they both share similar views as to the cause of the activism, thus to have English made the official language in America.
The writers do not share similar positions, with regards to making English the official language in the American states. Miller is of the opinion that language never has and will never be a threat. Citrin disagrees, as 'most citizens regard English as a symbol of American nationhood that must be defended' (Citrin 96). The statement indicates that he doubts if any policies that undermine it will be encouraged, for they will segment the American society into races, which will be detrimental to fostering unity and stability.
Miller, on the other hand, explains that 'in truth, for many English-only advocates, language has become a stand-in for less palatable sentiments, the fear of changing racial demographics among them'. He provides evidence that the advocacy behind officiating English to promote unity is driven by less noble intentions of xenophobic white majorities, who are feeling threatened by immigrants. While both agree that legislation arises from need to unify diverse American society, they disagree on intentions of officiating English, as opposed to strengthening minor languages.
Miller and Citrin argue their viewpoints from different angles and use various techniques to promote their opinions. Miller is openly against the push to officiate English and provides reasons against. Citrin proposes the adoption of the legislation through rhetorical questions and imagery. While both agree that immigration is the primary cause of the legislative push, they disagree on the methods of ensuring racial and cultural cohesion in an increasingly diverse nation. Language plays an integral role in unifying a nation, and as history dictates, citizens must sacrifice their identities and assume one identity for there to be unity and stability.
Citrin, Jack. 'Language politics and American Identity.' The Public Interest, 99 (1990): 96-109.
Miller, Eric. Talk the Talk. https://aeon.co/essays/why-would-the-usa-make-english-an-official-language Accessed 31 Aug., 2017.
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