Two decades ago, the majority of Americans believed that the official language of the United States was English. In fact, many Americans and even non-Americans citizens residing in the U.S. support the assertion that English may be considered as the only language that serves as a means to resolve the various conflicts and issues related to race, ethnicity, and religion of the people (Crawford, 1992). In addition, the English language has already proven itself time and again that it is indeed a very significant tool that may be used for cultural integration and even on social mobility. However, the critics and opponents of the English language, who acknowledge the importance of recognizing other non-English languages and dialects that are being spoken in the United States, strongly oppose the promotion of English language as the country’s official language (Mar-Molinero, 2000).
Unfortunately, this debate will seem to go on in the succeeding years and decades, if it remains unsettled. More than that, should the country fail to acknowledge English as its official language, there is also a great possibility that the practice of speaking other non-English languages will be passed on to the succeeding generations and eventually make the English language disappear from the American culture (Crawford, 1992). For this reason, this research study intends to settle the issue on whether or not there is a need for the U.S. to suppress or prohibit the use of other forms of languages as well as designate English as the official language in the country. In line with this, the main research assertion of this paper is the following: Since language plays a huge and important role in the development of a nation’s culture and most especially, the unity of its people, there is a need to designate English as the official language of America (Ray, 2010).
The Need to Designate an Official Language in the U.S.
The United States is a diverse nation and as such, it is not uncommon to see and hear people speak different languages. However, the problem in the U.S. citizens’ active speaking of languages other than English is that it may possibly threaten the national character of the United States and the sense of unity of the people (Crawford, 1992). According to Mar-Molinero (2000), the Spanish language is one of the most widely spoken languages in the United States aside from Chinese and English. In fact, Schmidt (2000) states that over thirty million people in the U.S. speak a different primary language that is non-English and almost twenty million people residing in the U.S. speak Spanish. Apparently, these numbers of people who speak Spanish language and use it as a primary language continue to grow number. For this reason, language issues concerning the official language of the United States inevitably arose as more people became confused as to what type of language should be considered as primary and official in the country (Mar-Molinero, 2000).
On the other hand, other critics of bilingualism raised an issue with regard to the huge possibility that the practice of speaking other non-English languages will be passed on to the succeeding generations and eventually make the English language disappear from the American culture (Crawford, 1992). These critics assert that language plays a huge, critical role in the development of a nation’s culture and most especially, the unity of its people and without a single primary language that unifies the entire nation, there is a possibility that unity amidst diversity will eventually become unattainable (Ray, 2010). On the other side of the issue were the proponents of bilingualism, which are continually fighting for the protection of the individuals’ right to free speech and the freedom to use their own language. For these people, limiting the language to only one major language such as English can possibly threaten the civil rights of the people (Crawford, 1992).
Nevertheless, this specific issue still needs to be critically addressed as it often serves as an important source of disagreements with regard to the true national identity and character of the United States, which affect not only the individuals and the various ethnic groups living in America, but also, the entire country as a whole (Mar-Molinero, 2000). According to Potowski (2010), there exists a relationship between linguistic diversity and national unity. Based on studies, the diversity of languages within a nation heightens political sectionalism and hinders national unity. As in the case of many other nations that have been studied in terms of their linguistic diversity, it was discovered that language diversity indeed impedes political participation and unity of the people as well as holds down or restrains governmental effectiveness (Potowski, 2010).
This is precisely because language serves as a critical unifying tool which integrates the opinions, views, beliefs and behaviors of all people within a nation into one. Without a common language that is recognized as an official or primary language of a specific nation, there is a tendency that people will not be unified in terms of their beliefs and actions. In addition, it is possible that because of language diversity, which often serves as a barrier between communities and ethnicities in the United States, division may arise and more issues and conflicts regarding the issue on language recognition will also emerge (Potowski, 2010). Indeed, as Ray (2010) stated, there is an important need to designate English as the official language of America because without the recognition of English as the country’s primary language, the threat of disunity, division, and the loss of the national character will always be present (Ray, 2010).
However, while designating English as the official language of America may prove to be quite necessary and important to avoid division and disunity among the people, this does not imply that the use of other non-English languages and ethnic dialects should be prohibited (Dicker, 2003). In respect to other cultures and ethnicities that reside in America, the acknowledgment of English as the country’s official language must not also get in the way of the people’s practice of speaking their own languages which define their culture. For example, Chinese and Spanish immigrants who intend to permanently reside in the United States must adopt the English language and acknowledge it as the country’s official language. Hence, they must be able to practice the use of the English language and if possible, use it as their primary language even in their own homes. However, these immigrants must not also be prohibited from speaking their own cultural languages, that is, either Chinese or Spanish, in respect to their civil rights and freedom to speech and self-expression (Ray, 2010; Dicker, 2003).
The Advantages of Designating English as an Official Language in the U.S.
Based on the proponents of English as an official language in the United States, designating and acknowledging English as the country’s primary national language may serve as a useful tool in strengthening cultural integration and unity among the different races and ethnicities residing in America. In a nation comprised of different ethnic, racial, and even religious groups, the existence of one common primary language will be able to effectively strengthen the unity of people. As a result, division will be eliminated and more conflicts and misunderstandings may be easily resolved. In addition, acknowledging English as the country’s official language may also be able to play a huge role in shaping the nation’s identity and character. When all people living and residing in America speak the same language, which is English, their national roots may easily be recognized by others who are outside the country. More than that, it would easier for the Americans to speak with their fellow Americans as they use the same language; this would eventually lead them to freely build relationships with others and even encourage them to participate in the most important political processes and socio-cultural practices in the country (Ray, 2010; Dicker, 2003; Mar-Molinero, 2000).
Aside from establishing a stronger and more united American society, designating English as an official language in the United States would also enable the government to instantly solve its core problems regarding the spread of various controversies on the social stratification in the country and the increased inter-ethnic competition that is believed to have existed for many years or even decades already (Ray, 2010; Dicker, 2003; Mar-Molinero, 2000). According to Dicker (2003), there has been a long need for the United States to shape a more acceptable and improved language policy in the country. This is in line with the increased number of people who have raised serious concerns against the language policy makers and the government as a whole with regard to the possible negative impact of the fast-growing linguistic diversity on the unity of the United States (Mar-Molinero, 2000).
This possible threat of the lack of unity in the country traces its roots since the 1800s up to the early 1900s wherein a large number of immigrants moved to the United States and the campaign promoting Americanization emerged, mainly due to the fact that the non-American immigrants would possibly cause division in the country as a result of their lack of willingness to assimilate with the culture of the Americans. Not surprisingly, it was also at that time that promoting the use of English as the main American language emerged in order to dispel any possible threats to the country’s total unification amidst the existence of various cultures and ethnicities within it (Ray, 2010; Dicker, 2003; Mar-Molinero, 2000). But even though this may have well been achieved in the past, there is still a need to continue in this Americanization campaign, this time, in line with the promotion of English as the official language of the country, in order to attain increased unity that is very much needed at the present time and situation in America (Ray, 2010; Dicker, 2003).
Furthermore, another issue that may be addressed in line with the US government’s act of designating English as the official language in the country is that of bilingualism or bilingual education. As it is earlier pointed out by the critics who oppose the designation of English as the primary language in America, it is a fundamental right of every citizen living in the United States to maintain their ethnic or racial culture and language which is only a logical outcome of living in a democratic nation (Ray, 2010; Dicker, 2003; Mar-Molinero, 2000). It is believed that in the designation of English as the official language in the country, the issue on bilingualism will finally be settled. This is because while English will serve as the official “lingua franca” of America, this does not mean that the secondary language, either ethnic or racial languages, that are inherent in most of the immigrants in the United States will not be allowed to be used or practiced in the country. Certainly, these secondary languages will still be recognized in the new language policies in the United States; however, certain restrictions will be set in order to encourage the citizens, especially the new immigrants to speak the official language in the country. This is with the intention of enabling them to become united with their fellow citizens and residents in America (Ray, 2010; Dicker, 2003; Mar-Molinero, 2000).
In conclusion, language plays a huge and important role in the development of a nation’s culture and most especially, the unity of its people. It is for this reason that there is a need to designate English as the official language of America in order to allow the country to promote unity among its people. Without an officially designated language such as English, the threat of division, disunity, and other forms of conflicts may possibly arise. Aside from this, the loss of the country’s national identity and character also serves to threaten the United States, if it fails to settle the important issue on the acknowledgement of an official language in the country. Through one common language, the strengthening of the unity of people may be effectively achieved. Also, the recognition of the people’s their national roots may easily be defined, if they speak the same language. Moreover, using English as a common language would be able to allow the Americans to speak comfortably with their fellow Americans without the fear of being misunderstood.
Furthermore, utilizing English as the official language in the country would enable the Americans to establish relationships with one another, as well as participate in the most important political processes in the nation, which would foster unity that would benefit the entire country as a whole. This is particularly important in the case of the new immigrants who are new to the culture and language in the country. A revised language policy promoting the use of English as the official language in America would enable both immigrants and present citizens of the country to continually practice speaking the English language in order to promote a stronger, well-unified and well-integrated society who are capable of understanding one another well and are able to communicate and express their views in a language that is commonly understood by each and every individual present in the society.
Crawford, J. (1992). Language loyalties: A source book on the official English controversy. University Of Chicago Press.
Dicker, S. (2003). Languages in America: A pluralist view. Multilingual Matters.
Mar-Molinero, C. (2000). The politics of language in the Spanish-speaking world: From colonisation to globalisation. Routledge.
Potowski, K. (2010). Language diversity in the USA. Cambridge University Press.
Ray, S. (2010). America’s common bond: Why English should be the official language of the United States. Reference Press.