Wednesday, May 24, 2006

The More Things Change...

Following up on my post yesterday about the not-so-impending doom of the English language, I found some interesting pages about the subject. As I mentioned, linguists scoff at the notion that bilingualism is going to render English extinct, knowing full and well that the presence of language #2 doesn't serve as a threat to language #1, and in fact it is the less common language that is apt to disappear.

This page from the Linguistic Society of America says basically all the same things I was saying, namely that second and third generation immigrants learn English at very high rates and become increasingly less able or willing to use their "native" language. There was also this page, which tells an interesting history about the "English only" movement directed against early German settlers, which I will quote part of:

Opponents of moves to make English the official language of the United States frequently suspect that English-only advocates are motivated by more than political idealism. This suspicion is certainly justified by the historical record. For the past two centuries, proponents of official-English have sounded two separate themes, one rational and patriotic, the other emotional and racist. The Enlightenment belief that language and nation are inextricably intertwined, coupled with the chauvinist notion that English is a language particularly suited to democratically constituted societies, are convincing to many Americans who find discrimination on non-linguistic grounds thoroughly reprehensible (see Baron, 1990). More prominent though, throughout American history, have been the nativist attacks on minority languages and their speakers: Native Americans, Asians, the French, Germans, Jews and Hispanics, to name only the most frequently targeted groups.

The English-only nativists who attacked the Germans used arguments similar to those heard nowadays against newer immigrants. Benjamin Franklin considered the Pennsylvania Germans to be a "“swarthy"” racial group distinct from the English majority in the colony. In 1751 he complained, "“Why should the Palatine Boors be suffered to swarm into our Settlements, and by herding together establish their Language and Manners to the exclusion of ours? Why should Pennsylvania, founded by the English, become a Colony of Aliens, who will shortly be so numerous as to Germanize us instead of our Anglifying them, and will never adopt our Language or Customs, any more than they can acquire our Complexion?"” (The papers of Benjamin Franklin. Ed. Leonard W. Labaree. New Haven: Yale Univ. Press, 1959. vol 4:234).

The Germans were accused by other eighteenth-century Anglos of laziness, illiteracy, clannishness, a reluctance to assimilate, excessive fertility, and Catholicism. They were even blamed for the severe Pennsylvania winters. (Feer 1952, 403; Mittelberger 1898, 104). Most irritating to PennsylvaniaƂ’s English-firsters in the latter 1700s was German language loyalty, although it was clear that, despite community efforts to preserve their language, Germans were adopting English and abandoning German at a rate that should have impressed the rest of the English-speaking population.

Hm, sounds familiar. Although I don't think that Hispanics have yet been blamed for severe winters, or in their case, severe droughts. Or have they?