Saturday, January 25, 2003

No language war

English first, then Spanish


English rules.

It's the common language of international business meetings and negotiations.

It's studied by schoolchildren around the world.

It's well-spoken by every employee of the Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris, even if they despair that we Americans will ever be cool.

Ours is the de facto language of the planet. Why, then, should anyone be concerned that U.S. ATM machines are now offering instructions in Spanish?

To some, this is yet another sign that "those people" - mostly Hispanics, but also speakers of other languages - are killing American culture. Unless our society becomes truly monolingual, forcing everyone to speak English outside their homes, all hell will break loose, these folks insist.

Bush habla EspaŅol

Someone ought to tell President Bush, who is busy courting Hispanic voters by giving speeches in Spanish.

As the broadcast journalist Jorge Ramos points out, Mr. Bush while campaigning in Florida once tried to tell the Hispanic community he was "very hungry" but instead informed them he had "a lot of shoulders."

No matter. The candidate was reaching out. With the U.S. Hispanic population pegged this week at 37 million - making Hispanics our largest minority group - speaking Spanish occasionally is good politics, just as bilingual ATM instructions are good business.

English-only speakers shouldn't feel threatened. English will always be America's first language, because it is the language of the global economy, and our dominance shows no signs of waning.

By the year 2050, the United States is expected to be the only wealthy nation still ranked among the world's 12 most-populous countries, says Nick Eberstadt, a researcher at the American Enterprise Institute.

Today, Japan and Russia also make the list, but their citizens are dying faster than they can be replaced.

The United States doesn't have this problem. Our population is more robust, due in part to our success at assimilating immigrants.

In Midwest: English

Fifty percent of U.S.Hispanics live in California or Texas, where Spanish is almost dominant in some cities.

But at the same time, immigrants in search of work are dispersing from these strongholds in greater numbers than expected.

Raul Rios, manager of a Margaritas restaurant in Erlanger, Ky., says he had little need for English when he immigrated from Mexico to San Bernardino, Calif., 10 years ago.

But Northern Kentucky was a different story. After five years, Mr. Rios now speaks decent English, and he expects his two children, who just arrived here from Mexico, to rapidly become fluent.

Should governments, schools and doctors' offices be forced to translate for Spanish speakers?

Mr. Rios shrugged. That would be nice, he says, but he doesn't expect it.

This is America, after all. An English-speaking country. or (859) 578-5584.

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