Friday, February 23, 2007

Oceanfront land in Charlotte

Every now and then (funny, it came up tonight), we kick around the idea of how to break j-students of the habit of taking everything authority figures tell them at face value. Then along comes a chunk of prose that makes you wonder: Why bother?

Such is this, from the editorial page of the Foremost Newspaper of the Carolinas, taking a nice safe swing at the knuckle-dragging mentality that has Beaufort County tearing down any signs it can find that have the misfortune of being in Spanish (HEADSUP-L being from Pitt County, it's always nice to have somebody to look down on).

Guillermina Jasso, a sociologist at New York University, has studied immigration at NYU and for the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service for two decades. She said English is in no danger of being supplanted by Spanish -- or any other language.

"English is the language of democracy and egalitarianism, and those are the beliefs the world is evolving toward," she told the nation's editorial writers at a recent seminar on immigration at the University of Maryland.

That's nice. Can we support any of that, please?

Her evidence? 1. English does not have a formal tense. 2. English does not distinguish gender. 3. English is the language of the Internet.

Those arguments make a lot more sense than baseless fright that speaking another language somehow threatens English.

Well... no. In their own way, they're worse than baseless fright, because they're fabricated. It'd be nice to think the world was evolving toward democracy, but it's hardly uncontested (and sociologists, God love 'em, aren't the ones who keep score). But that's a point for discussion -- not an out-and-out fiction.

What's a "formal tense"? Does our expert mean English doesn't have separate forms of address for different kinds of acquaintances? (What that has to do with "tense" goes unexplained.) Does that feature mean French (somebody's in for a surprise) and Spanish can't be languages of democracy? Why isn't Arabic the language of democracy?

"English does not distinguish gender"? Gawd. One can only hope the little editors' and editrixes' rooms at the editorial writers' conference weren't marked "his" and "hers." And again, what does this have to do with democracy and equality? Do languages without grammatical gender make cultures free their slaves faster?

Seriously, though. If a sociologist stood up at the meeting and told you America was the land of the free because the sun rises in the West, would you believe it? And write it down? And use it to admonish the backward peoples of the coastal plain?

Yes, tearing down the signs is ignorant and verges on openly racist. Perhaps the same can be said of categorizing people's fitness for democracy by the features of their grammar. That's Orwellian in the most literal sense.


Anonymous Matt said...

Well said.

Of course, a "formal" structure, such as the "usted/ustedes" form in Spanish, has nothing to do with tense. You conjugate verbs differently based on whether they're meant as a formal address or in some other formal sense, but that has nothing to do with tense. Implying that it does, as the article you site does, proves the writers' ignorance about language.

6:01 PM, February 23, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Mode gets confusing, uh?


11:15 PM, February 23, 2007  
Anonymous Linray said...

That looks suspiciously like the writer heard about half of what was said. English doesn't distinguish gender "of inanaimate objects." I say "writer" sted "reporter" because a reporter would've avoided the flypaper traps in that story. And the internet all English? Must not've done a Google search recently.

12:17 PM, February 24, 2007  

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