Sunday, October 30, 2011

No se hable anglais ici.

If you picked up the Pittsburgh city paper last week you read about two bills in the state legislature mandating English as the official language of the commonwealth.

House bills 361 and 888 would make English the official language for all Commonwealth business. In the case of 888, proposed by Rep. Scott Perry (R-Cumberland), it would extend that mandate to the state's political subdivisions, like municipalities. And both bills would mean no longer printing materials -- like the kind found at the DMV -- in languages other than English.
Of course, when this kind of silliness comes up amongst the more xenophobic amongst us who offer solutions in search of problems, it is fun to remember the mongrel nature of the English language. It's a bit German, a bit Nordic, a bit Latin, a bit French, and a handful of other languages to fill in the gaps that we didn't have words for. As the old saying goes, English does not borrow from other languages, it follows them down dark alleys, mugs them, and rifles through their pockets for loose grammar.

We've spent at least the last thousand years, honing our language to be as clear as mud and slippery as a ghoti. It's a mess. Ever day we violate our rules of grammar, create new words, and generally work our language like a rented mule in order to kinda, sorta, make ourselves understood, maybe.

That's even setting aside the confusion of major national variations (American, British, Austrailian, South African, Indian Englishes) and the sub national dialects that make Bostonians and New Yorkers so damned difficult to understand. So somehow, I don't think the folks in Harrisburg are really in the position to be arbiters of "official English"... That would make them, you know, French.

But, here's my solution: instead of "Spanish", speakers should should start referring it as "English 2". "English" is still the official state language, and people can still say what ever they damn well feel like. Boom! Problem, solved.

Or "No problemo" as the English 2 speakers say.


MH said...

¿Cómo se dice obstruido las alcantarillas?

Anonymous said...

You have pointed out a serious flaw in the bills as they stand. They clearly need an amendment which defines "English" to be clear that it excludes vocabulary imported from foreign languages, with, perhaps, a grandfather clause for any of the words contained in the King James Bible. To prevent revision by activist judges, this amendment should be an exhaustive list of all permitted words.

I had originally imagined a much simpler amendment, that merely mandated that "English" be defined as excluding all masculine and feminine nouns, but I quickly realized the peril in that approach.