Afterthe reading of the article we get an idea of Robert King’s point of view andarguments about language. It is true that “our native tonguehelps shape our personal identity, giving us not only words and literature incommon with people who speak the same language but perhaps even habits of mind.
“(409) But in Robert D. King’s words “just how much of a country’s identity istied to its language? (…) is language diversity really threat to nationalidentity?” (409) On august 1, 1996 a bill wasapproved by the House of Representatives in the United States that would makethe official language of the country English. The vote passed by 259 to 169with more Republicans voting in favour and more Democrats voting against.
Oneof the states that passed the “English Only” Law was Arizona in October, 1995. King also reinforces the fact that theFounding Fathers didn’t feel the need to legislate that English had to be the officiallanguage of the Country and that “it has always been taken for granted that Englishis the national language and that one must learn English in order to make it inAmerica.” (411) Back in the day, in 1753, Benjamin Franklinshared his concern about the immigrants, especially the German ones. He thoughtthat they would out number them and they wouldn’t be able to preserve theirlanguage. Even Theodore Roosevelt said “we have room for but one language here,and that is the English language (…) we must have but one flag. We must havealso but one language. That must be the language of the Declaration ofIndependence”. (411) I think that one of the biggestquestions in King’s mind was “is America threatened by the preservation oflanguages other than English?” (413) During the Middle Ages you owed loyalty toa ruler not to a nation as a language unit, but a lot of people think of nation as a “totality of people who speaks thesame language” (414, Jacob Grimm, 1846) or that “languages originally distinguishednations from one another”.
(414, Rousseau) Therefor, almost by default,language became the defining characteristic of nationality. Robert King gives us examples of howcountries deal with the language differences. For example, Estonia has passed alaw requiring knowledge of their language as a condition for citizenship eventhough Ethnic Russians make up almost a third of Estonia’s population. At thesame time, other countries manage to stay unified in the middle of the multilingualism.For example, Switzerland and India, who recognizes 19 official languages. Both ofthe countries, in King’s opinion, have a “strong national identity” and maintaintheir unity through their beliefs, religions, memories, customs, among otherthings.
Just like any other country, theseones have problems too when it comes to language, especially when you have so many.But like King says “there is almost nothing the government (…) can do to changelanguage usage and practice”. You can’t make or stop someone in a free countryto express themselves how they want and in any language they wish to. “wisegovernments keep their hands off language to the extent that it is possible todo so.” (418) I believe that the most convincing piece of evidence iswhen he says that “language is a convenient surrogate for other nationalproblems” (419), because people can deal with language differences. There areother ways to communicate and make yourself heard.
People, especially in America,are just threatened by language and “not many of today’s immigrants will seetheir first language survive into the second generation” (419) if we don’t acceptand respect each other and our differences. People should take a look atthemselves and ask, is this really what we want? All of us to be the same? I don’tthink we do. How boring would that be?