May 23, 2007

That immigration bill is bringing out the vicious language... or at least reports of it.

The other day we heard that John McCain said "f*ck you" and "chickenshit" over the bill, and now here's John Boehner calling the bill "a piece of sh*t."

Eh, why does it seem okay to write out "chickenshit" and not "sh*t"? It's no mystery, the whole point of "chickenshit" is that it's tiny.

Anyway, as I've said before, the issue here isn't why are they talking like this now, it's why are we hearing that they are. I think we know why. It's a big contentious issue, number 1. Number... uh... another thing... is that the bill and the problem it tries to solve are so complex that it's just easier to talk about how they're talking... as I'm doing right now.

14 comments:

George said...

I recently received a survey from my childrens’ school district regarding bilingual education.

Here are some of the questions it posed:

I believe that children learn more in a classroom where both English and Spanish is taught.

I believe that when Spanish-speaking and English-speaking children learn each other’s language have better understanding of each other and will like each other better.

I believe that information at public events should be presented in English and Spanish so everyone has access to the same information.

I believe that if children learn a second language in school, parents should learn the same second language.

Sit through a school meeting, such as a PTA session or high school graduation, and suffer through hearing remarks translated after they're made in English, #$*$(^%&$%# that!

Zeb Quinn said...

The biggest problem with it is that it rewards lawbreakers. Same problem I had in 1986.

Icepick said...

Number... uh...

Nicely done!

tjl said...

"it rewards lawbreakers"

It rewards lawbreakers and encourages millions more to do the same. After amnesties in 1986 and 2007, who wouldn't expect future amnesties every time the illegal population reaches a certain politically critical mass? It would be more honest to admit that amnesty in effect means we will have borders open to absolutely everyone in the world capable of getting here.

Balfegor said...

I believe that information at public events should be presented in English and Spanish so everyone has access to the same information.

For the people who believe that, why stop at Spanish? Why note Mandarin, traditional and basic, Cantonese, Korean, Hmong, Vietnamese, Japanese, Portuguese, Thai, German, and French too? Certainly Spanish covers more, considering the millions on millions of Spanish-speakers in the country, but this is a real problem. When people have gone at it from an individual perspective -- "everyone has access to the same information" -- you run into problems with bilingual education in languages so obscure or so recently arrived that there are no people to teach or translate in it.

What's more, speakers of different languages will never have access to the same information. First, for the trivial reason that the act of translation shades meaning. And second -- and more significantly -- there is an immense volume of government material with a significant impact on peoples' lives, all of which is written entirely in English, and the understanding of which often depends on precisely the shadings of meaning that translation tends to obscure. I am talking, of course, of the Law -- the Constitution, the Federal Codes, the State codes, the myriads of niggling regulations in the Code of Federal Regulations, the Federal Register, the Congressional record, and looming behind them all, the innumerable pages of judicial opinions and administrative decisions, all written in English. Bad English, often, and English at times impenetrable to the laiety. But English nonetheless. As an English speaker, when the new Supreme Court case comes out, you can pull it down and read through it, and understand, generally, what's going on. When a government official comes forward and makes a pronouncement, formally or informally, you can understand what he has said, and apply it to your own life. In court, you can give your testimony directly to the judge or the jury, without the intermediary of an overworked court translator. Our institutions of government function almost exclusively in English, and no number of Spanish-language forms can bring about any more than a cosmetic equality. Spanish monolinguals are going to be effectively disenfranchised in this country pretty much no matter what. It's like being illiterate.

Bilingual education, if implemented properly, brings real cognitive benefits (at least as I understand the research as it stood back when I was in college). But bilingual education as it is actually implemented seems a miserable failure -- it turns out to be hard to teach a class of students to speak another language, and it's easier just to keep on teaching them in Spanish (or whatever their native language is). And they end up second class citizens with limited competency in the English used by the State.

I think there has to be some bilingual education, just to teach older children to speak. And signs and suchlike should have different languages, if only so tourists don't get lost everywhere. I recall that in New York, for example, the subway had instructions and so forth in a fair number of different languages. But the paramount objective in educating non-English speaking pupils in our public education system ought to be to develop their English-language competence to the point that they have access to American governing and legal structures.

The Drill SGT said...

The Bilingual / ESL mafia are too deeply feeding at the funding spigot. Even though if you go to a professional to learn a language, they will use "immersion" rather than bilingual as an approach.

MadisonMan said...

For the people who believe that, why stop at Spanish?

At my kids' school functions, translation is provided into Spanish and also Hmong, routinely. The sound reason behind this is that if the parents are involved in the school, then their children do better. And parents are more likely to be involved if they understand what's going on.

Gahrie said...

At my kids' school functions, translation is provided into Spanish and also Hmong, routinely

How is it that translation for Hmong is still needed? The Hmong resettlement was thirty years ago! They should have learned English by now, and anyway I doubt the original wave of adults are still having child bearing children. If Hmong translation is still necessary, it is just more proof of the ghettoization of America through immigration.

Revenant said...

My mother taught at a Jewish day school. Year after year she'd get Russian immigrant kids who didn't speak a word of English. By the end of the year they spoke English and Hebrew well enough to function in either language. Of course, they had parents who gave a rat's ass about their educations, which certainly helped.

Anyway, screw the idea of teaching the kids in Spanish. Teach them in English -- they'll learn, just like all our ancestors did. If they don't, well, you don't need an education to do the kind of jobs open to a non-English speaker anyway.

hdhouse said...

I just love the rightwing on here.

Walk half a mile in New York City. Listen to the sidewalk conversations. You can go blocks without hearing English. It is invigorating.

I'm old. I can't speak Spanish but I'm learning because it is something of a second language hereabouts. If I lived where my son and wife own a residence in the city, I would certainly try and pick up some Korean and most certainly some Yiddish.

Being bi-lingual isn't a curse, it is a gift. I've never had the opportunity, since fulfilling my 3 languages doctoral requirement to use either German or French or Italian in everyday life. Never ever except in an occasional restaurant.....

So tell me again, oh great right-wing, why you feel so threatened by Spanish? What are you gonna do? Make a law that says if you say anything in any language other than English you can't say it? We won't listen to it?

Balfegor said...

Make a law that says if you say anything in any language other than English you can't say it?

Usually, the proposed laws are that (1) English is the official language of the state, and official business shall be transacted in English (presumeably with some carveout for foreign dealings); (2) English proficiency shall be a prerequisite for American citizenship; (3) All children educated through schools receiving federal funding shall be required to educate pupils to English proficiency.

There are in fact, many precedents for more draconian language laws, whereby use of a language other than the language of the state is punishable. France, for example, at one point seems to have had extremely harsh language laws, punishing speakers of Breton, Basque, Occitan, and others, with fines, imprisonment and occasionally genocide. The much-mocked Academie Francaise is just the last remnant of these policies. Other European nations have also historically had language laws of similar type, although not (to my knowledge) nearly as lethal. Further, when Japan occupied Korea, not only was Japanese made the official language of state, but during certain periods of Japanese rule people were beaten for speaking and writing Korean in public. The Japanese also closed all Korean language schools, so that those Koreans who wanted to get an education had to attend the Japanese schools. As far as I can tell, no one is suggesting we handle this the European or the Japanese way.

Bilingualism is, as you say, a gift. I'm effectively bilingual in English and Japanese, and would be trilingual with Korean too, if I weren't terrified of insulting my senior relations every time I open my mouth (it is extremely easy to be inadvertently insulting in the complex hierarchy of registers used in Korean, particularly in my family). I know enough French to read the news, and enough German to get by when I'm on holiday. So it's not that I undervalue bilingualism. The problem we face, though, is not bilingualism -- it's monolingualism in a language other than English. Historically, this peters out by the second generation, but historically, immigrant communities have been tiny. You couldn't get work effectively without acquiring some English, and your children got more in school and so on. Now, on the other hand, as you point out:

You can go blocks without hearing English.

Yes. You can. And you can get "bilingual education" in many places -- "bilingual education" which turns out not to be "bilingual" at all, but rather, monolingual in the non-English mother tongue. The existence of large communities in which English is unnecessary leads to a situation in which people don't need to learn English to function. Which, in turn, means large numbers of people won't bother to learn English. And as I pointed out above, when these people are our fellow citizens, that should be a significant concern to us -- we'll have a whole class of fellow citizens who can access government and the corpus of the law only, if at all, through translated intermediaries.

A hundred or a hundred fifty years ago, that might not have bothered us much. Our views on equality and access to government institutions were rougher and more casual then. But now, we see these fellow citizens for what they are: second class citizens.

Not what we want.

Balfegor said...

Also re: HdHouse --

I suppose, to be perfectly honest, I should also note that at the moment, the single most significant use I make of most of those languages (other than reading books and watching TV) is conversations in public. I feel naked having a conversation in English in public. People might understand! So if I can, I prefer to use a different language.

Well, that, and answering telemarketers on my landline. Going Yoboseyo? or Hai, nan-deshou ka? is a surefire way to make them sputter and hang up.

tjl said...

"bilingual education" turns out not to be "bilingual" at all, but rather, monolingual in the non-English mother tongue"

Balfegor is concerned that graduates of "bilingual education" can take part in the public discourse only in translation, and hence their citizenship is second-class.

Their economic disadvantage is even worse. Obviously there are plenty of jobs open to non-English speakers, but these jobs offer few opportunities beyond hanging sheetrock, cleaning floors, or blowing leaves. It's hard to understand why the same people who bemoan our growing economic inequality could hardly care less about one of its most obvious causes, i.e., the presence of a vast population of non-assimilated non-English speakers. If income inequality is a concern, and it should be, then why not address it by doing everything possible to encourage English proficiency? Otherwise we will evolve into a peon society much like the ones the immigrants tried to leave.

Revenant said...

Being bi-lingual isn't a curse, it is a gift.

So let's gift our Spanish-speaking immigrant youths with the ability to speak, read, and write English.