Is the supremacy of English a bad thing?

By Barry Farber

If you can read this, you’re the fortunate recipient of a valuable gift.

No, the valuable gift is not merely that you’re literate. It’s that you’re literate in English!

The English language is the leading language of planet Earth. When the Egyptian general and the Israeli general met in the Sinai Desert in 1967 to sign a truce in the Six-Day War, they didn’t conduct their deliberations in Arabic. And they didn’t conduct them in Hebrew. They spoke English. If an Italian plane takes off from an Italian airport run by Italian air traffic control personnel, and ground talks to air and air talks to ground and everybody in the drama is Italian, all the critical communications are still conducted in English. Other planes with pilots of other nationalities have to understand. English is the language of not just the Earth, but also of the air surrounding the Earth!

These words are not merely a love letter and a congratulatory note. The higher point in this screed is that here in the USA, the English language is the very glue that holds our country together! People in Key West, Florida, care about people in Alaska, and vice versa. Let’s say it’s roughly the same distance from Key West to Alaska as it is from Oslo, Norway, to Istanbul, Turkey. The people in Oslo may, indeed, sympathize with earthquake victims in Istanbul, but nowhere near to the same extent as people in Key West care about those in Alaska. Why? Because they’re “ours,” because of that good old English glue. In between Oslo and Istanbul you’ll find Swedish, Danish, German, Croatian, Macedonian, Bulgarian and Turkish.

A noxious notion has taken hold of us that says the more we promote the Spanish language the more brotherly we are. That’s pernicious and dangerous. A country that’s bonded together with one language and yet urges its population to “Press ‘1’ for English” is not to be hailed as brotherly, but should instead be scolded for poor housekeeping.

Equally pernicious and dangerous is the notion that cities and states that militate in favor of making English the official language are somehow “hateful” and that, next thing you know, those lovely women, Carmen and Concepción, will be fired or arrested for speaking Spanish on the assembly line in Arizona. That’s not the intent at all. It merely means that all official business shall be conducted in English, so it’s a good idea to learn English and eliminate the shame of those immigrants who don’t speak English even after living in America. Meanwhile Carmen and Concepción and Johan and Olaf and Hans and Oleg can feel free to speak whatever language makes them most comfortable and is most natural to their ears.

But I do have some advice I give to native speakers of Spanish who are living here and yet seem to somehow resist learning English. I tell them, “Cuanto más inglés puede que hablar, más dinero puede que ganar. Y más mejor vida tendrá.” (That means “The more English you can speak, the more money you can earn. And the better life you’ll have.”)

Over the decades there have been oodles of attempts to invent an “international” language. Every single such effort, from Esperanto to Idiom Neutral, wound up in the trash. We had to learn the hard way that no international language can be imposed on the world by a committee of linguistic scholars. A language’s universality is a result of the economic and military prominence of those who speak that language. Although French was once “the language of diplomacy,” English has clearly supplanted it, with no serious challenges from any other language.

Once upon a time, England’s Irish neighbors had their Irish Gaelic language, which is barely heard in Ireland today. A group of Irish nationalists sought to resurrect it, and plastered signs all over the country urging the population to “Speak Gaelic!”

But the signs were in English!

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