Category: English in the News
Written by CB Online Staff, Caribbean Business
Read the full article here.
An officially bilingual territory, like Puerto Rico, in which the government, schools and over 80% of the citizens do not speak the same language or conduct official business in the same language in the same language as all the other 50 U.S. states is unlikely to be admitted to the union unless it agrees to change its language policy, according to ProEnglish, a national English language advocacy organization.
The Virginia-based group, with members in all 50 states, argued that case in written testimony presented ahead of a hearing in the island Legislature on legislation to set up the Fortuño administration’s proposed two-step status plebiscite.
ProEnglish was founded in 1993 to preserve English as the common, unifying language of our nation by making it the official language at all levels of government—local, state, and federal.
Even though the United States does not have an official language, the default language of its federal government and the courts is English, and no existing U.S. state government operates in any other language on a day-to-day basis.
“Predominately Spanish-speaking Puerto Rico would be a glaring exception,” Bibby said. Hawaii is the only U.S. state with two official languages—English and Native Hawaiian—but Hawaii’s official language makes English the default language of government operations.
“There is a long history of Congress requiring English to be the language of government for territories seeking to be admitted to the union,” said Suzanne Bibby, director of government relations at ProEnglish.
“The English language is one of the strongest and most durable ties that unite Americans,” she said. “The Founders of the United States recognized this fact, which is why President George Washington, in 1795, signed a law passed by Congress requiring all existing and future statutes of the United States to be published exclusively in English.”
She noted that the Naturalization Act of 1906 requires people desiring to become naturalized U.S. citizens to demonstrate their proficiency in the English language.
“The U.S. Congress has repeatedly voted to include provisions in legislation concerning Puerto Rico’s status that require it to adopt English as its sole official language if it chooses to become a state,” Bibby said.
The ProEnglish official said language policy has always been a central feature of legislative action on Puerto Rican statehood.
“The Puerto Rican legislature should recognize that an overwhelmingly majority of the American people want to preserve English as the common language of the United States,” she said, pointing to various polls.
“There are compelling reasons to amend the proposed status referendum legislation to encourage informed debate over the issue of language,” Bibby said.
First, there is no provision in the legislation acknowledging that Puerto Rico would have to adopt English as the language of its government if Puerto Rico applies for admission as a state, she said. Although Puerto Rico currently designates both Spanish and English as official languages, Puerto Rico’s government and schools conduct day-to-day operations in Spanish alone.
Puerto Rico’s four million residents are overwhelmingly Spanish-speaking. According to the latest Census figures from the 2010 American Community Survey, Puerto Rico has a total population of 3,498,886, of whom 96% speak Spanish. Eighty-one percent (81%) of Puerto Ricans describe themselves as being able to speak English less than very well,” and only 15% say they can speak English “very well.”
“Unless Puerto Rico adopts English, admitting it as a state would set a bad precedent and endanger our nation’s unity. No territory with an official language other than English has ever been admitted to the union, which is why the U.S. has avoided the kind of political and cultural strife that afflicts linguistically divided countries today such as Canada, Belgium, and the Ukraine,” Bibby said.
“Learning English has always been essential for the successful assimilation of new immigrants to the United States. Admitting a predominantly Spanish-speaking state whose government operates in Spanish would send the wrong message about the need for immigrants to learn English and undermine our ‘melting pot’ tradition, which has made the United States the most successful multi-ethnic nation in the world,” Bibby said.
The ProEnglish official argued that admitting Spanish-speaking Puerto Rico as a state without requiring its government to operate in English would lead to increased demands for taxpayer-funded Spanish language translations and interpreters, and give rise to speeches and debates in Spanish on the floors of Congress requiring simultaneous translation similar to what we now see at United Nations meetings.
“The abrupt move toward Canadian-style bilingualism at the federal level will have a ripple effect throughout American society,” she said.
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