The Death of English
In his best-selling book The Death of the West, Pat Buchanan noted how our society is becoming increasingly fragmented and balkanized. This fact came home to me last weekend as I reflected on the forthcoming recall election in California. In an infuriating blow to reason, fairness, and equal justice, county voting boards will be required to print ballots in several languages other than English. In San Mateo, for example, ballots must be printed in Spanish, Chinese, and English, while Los Angeles must print ballots in seven languages: Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Spanish, Tagalog, Vietnamese, and English.
All of this is pure poppycock. To become a naturalized citizen of the United States a person is required to know English. Specifically, the law requires “an understanding of the English language, including an ability to read, write and speak…simple words and phrases…in ordinary usage in the English language.” Why, then, the need for foreign language ballots if only legal citizens can vote? There’s no rationale for it unless our policrats are trying to get non-citizens to vote.
Chew on that for a second. Our government has said that knowledge of English is required for American citizenship and then requires ballots to be printed in foreign languages. Where will it stop? I well remember the Oakland School Board’s proposal in 1996 to offer instruction in what they called “Ebonics”—which was nothing but a euphemism for sub-standard English. Thankfully, that proposal was routed.
It’s not that I can’t empathize with those who must learn English as a second language. Having lived in the German-speaking part of Switzerland while earning my doctorate at the University of Basel, I know what it’s like to try to adjust to another culture. However, one thing was made crystal clear to me from the very beginning: the language of instruction at the university was German, and you were expected to know it. If you didn’t, tough. So what did I do? I did what every other foreign student did—I learned German, and learned it well! (By the way, in my program you were also expected to pass oral exams in Greek and Latin and have at least a reading knowledge of several other research languages such as French, Italian, and Dutch, but that’s another story.)
Goethe once said, “Language is the mirror of culture.” It’s true. You simply cannot understand a culture unless you understand its language. Translation will not work because translation is not an exact science, as this comparison of translations of Aristophanes demonstrates.
Vice President Al Gore, in one of his famous howlers, once translated our national slogan, “E Pluribus Unum,” backward, as “Out of one, many.” His words are truer than I would like to admit. I would just request that if my taxes are ever audited, could I have it done in Latin since Jesus told us to “render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s,” and as a practicing Christian it would be nice to have that done in the same language Caesar actually used.
August 11, 2003
David Alan Black is the editor of www.daveblackonline.com.