The U.S.-Mexican War and
    the Peoples of the Year 2000


The Rights of All First Languages


Inputs from Politics  

Inputs from History  

The Future of New/Old Nations  

Language is a question of family values -- among other things, of Navajo values, of Haitian values, of Romany values. 

Spanish and English are not all there is to it. Even just between Mexico and the United States, a whole range of languages have been at issue, then and now: 

  • the speech that teachers in Mexico present as "good Spanish" (whatever teachers in Spain might think)
  • the speech that teachers in the U.S. present as "good English" (whatever teachers in England might think)
  • the "original" languages spoken by indigenous people, in many parts of Africa and the Americas.
  • the evolved or hybrid languages spoken by various peoples 
In policy, governments do not face a simple choice between teaching "the" national language and pursuing some neatly-defined "bilingualism."  For one thing, bilingualism can mean several different things: 
  • encouraging the development of a professional and commercial class who can handle more than one language, and who can therefore mediate between societies
  • allowing the public and work-place use of Spanish by people who have migrated into the United States, or of English by those who have migrated into Mexico
  • using a "bilingual" program for easing into the school system those children who enter it speaking an immigrant language
  • using a local indigenous language alongside the "national" language, in a public school, or in a religious school for that matter
  • giving some kind of recognition to the variations on English or Spanish spoken by specific ethnic groups.
"Educated" bilingualism is not controversial.  Working-class bilingualism is.  It raises questions about school budgets, and about whether employers can understand conversations among employees.  It is the question of whether poor parents have the same rights as rich, to transmit their culture to their children.
More open, creative options are needed, if governments are to deal sanely with the so-called "bilingual education" problem.  There are also some cautions that may affect any options:
  • The old tendency for children to reject parental languages means that the real endangered species here is diversity, not "English."
  • Over the centuries, the most serious violation of language rights has been the repression of indigenous languages, not the imposition of one European language on another European language.
  • The ideal of language diversity requires both the full richness of traditional language, including its academic forms, and the freedom of language to evolve in "outlaw" directions.
  • On this last point, one of the unnoticed difficulties with official bilingual education programs is that they would reinforce the kinds of lower-middle-class "school" language -- English or Spanish -- that protect neither real tradition nor real creativity.

    Language lives best when it is a property, not of nation-states, but of historical communities.  The most important resource now, for preserving purity and diversity -- that great paradoxical value -- is precisely the kind of transnational community, or nonlocal nationality, that is emerging on the world scene.  The trusteeship that it exercises may be legal when it comes to economic property, but conceptual when it comes to language and culture.


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