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Jun 10th
Home Sections Literature and Fourth Estate What the United States (and the World) Need Is an "English Also" Law
What the United States (and the World) Need Is an "English Also" Law PDF Print E-mail
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Sections - Literature and Fourth Estate
Thursday, 20 September 2007 02:14

At least 20 States in the United States have designated English as their official language. Many of these State laws passed in recent years appear to be symbolic and do not restrict government use of other languages. In 1990 the State of Alabama amended its constitution and declared English as its official language. State laws were then passed that instructed Alabama officials to ''take all steps necessary'' to preserve and enhance ''the role of English as the common language.''

The United States Supreme Court has reviewed a case known as the Alexander v. Sandoval, 99-1908. The suit involves Martha Sandoval, who wanted to take Alabama's driver's examination in 1996, but gave up when she learned that the State, following up a 1990 ''English only'' law, had stopped offering the test in Spanish. Sandoval originally hails from Mexico and she understands very little English.

What the United States and the World actually need is an "English Also" law. Whether Americans and the British like it or not, the English language is becoming the paramount universal language. More and more foreigners try to learn how to speak and read English. In fact both the People's Republic of China and India claim to be the world's biggest English-speaking countries, as their respective populations exceed one billion. If we assume for instance that one third of all people in India speak English, as it is a former British colony, then there are indeed more English-speaking Indians that there are Americans and Britons combined.

The Canadian Province of Quebec best illustrates the "English Also" practice. While a vast majority of the people of Quebec speaks French, almost all signs - from menu cards to traffic signs to customs forms - have English translations. In fact in the English-speaking parts of Canada, there are also French translations of the English text.

Fred Burce Bunao, the Filipino-American poet-pundit, and I experienced the need for an "English Also" law that prompted us to say that such a bill should be passed and made mandatory, especially in ethnic restaurants. A few years back Mr. Bunao invited me to eat in a Korean restaurant in Los Angeles, California, and we both could not understand the menu selection. All the menu cards were written in Korean. While the waiter was courteous enough to translate to us the items in the menu card, it was still a big bother to order in that Korean restaurant. We then discussed over Korean barbecue the business signs found in the ethnic enclaves of many American cities. Most of the signs in America's China Towns are in Chinese, with very little English translation in them. The same scenario is found in Korea Town, Little Tokyo, Thai Town and Little Havana. Even in Downtown Los Angeles where some streets have been taken over by Latino business enterprises, most of the store signs are in Spanish.

Would it not be feasible for the State legislatures and even the Congress of the United States to pass "English Also" laws, instead of the "English Only" legislation?

Perhaps the "English Also" law may reduce the number of lawsuits that may otherwise reach the United States Supreme Court. And in big urban areas like the City of Los Angeles, where ethnic groups speak more than 100 languages and dialects, the "English Also" law will probably stimulate more trade and commerce, aside from developing more multiethnic cooperation and interaction. Mandating that ethnic signs should have "English Also" translations will in fact spur the development of the King's language as a second tongue among America's immigrants that do not come from English-speaking countries. # # #


(Editor's Notes: The writer may be reached at for any comment or suggestion. Fred Burce Bunao, who is cited in this article, was the winner of the 1969 Palanca Award for Poetry in English. The Palanca Award is considered the Philippines' foremost award in literature. Mr. Bunao is also the author's cofounder of the Media Breakfast Club of Los Angeles.)

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Last Updated on Thursday, 20 September 2007 02:16

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