Canada was settled by both English and French. It had no choice but to be a bilingual nation. By contrast, the United States was originally blessed with a single common language. Canada has experienced social unrest, threats of separation and a referendum that came within a hair’s breadth of breaking up the nation.
One of the major reasons for America’s great success as the world’s first “universal nation,” for its astonishing and unmatched capacity for assimilating immigrants, has been that an automatic part of acculturation was the acquisition of English.
When it was proposed to make English the “official” language, to be used in business with the government — tax forms, court proceedings, ballot boxes, etc., the best that the Senate could do was pass an amendment to the immigration bill declaring English to be the “national” language. Even that was too much for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, who called the resolution “racist.”
No immigrant should presume to make a demand that the state grant special status to his former language. He may speak it on the street and teach it to his children, but he should know that his future and certainly theirs lie inevitably to learning English as the gateway to American life. Not to do so limits them considerably in their ability to participate in many aspects of the American economy.
English is America’s national and common language. Making English the official language means it’s the language of the government and its institutions. “Official” makes clear our expectations of acculturation. He must understand English in order to be able to vote. He has the right to speak whatever language he wants, but he must understand that when he comes to America, swears allegiance and accepts its bounty, he undertakes to join its civic culture. In English.
ROGER M. CLITES