Saturday, December 15, 2007

Perdido en Traducción

I can't speak a foreign language. I took two years of French in high school that I did absolutely horrible in (though good enough to pass both classes...barely), and I took two semesters of German in college that I did quite well in (thanks to my linguistically-abled wife). But I still can't speak more than a few mumbling phrases and can't understand a word of it. I'm just hopeless when it comes to foreign languages. Hell, any grammarian will tell you that even my English ain't so great. Language just isn't my thing.

And that's why I find the "English-only" issue to be so offensively stupid. How many of the people who push this stuff are bi-lingual? And while many of them are unlikely to go to foreign countries, you can bet they'll expect those foreigners to be able to speak English even better than they do. I've only been out of the country twice, both times to Mexican bordertowns for drinking purposes. And let me tell you, while I do know the word "cerveza", I still ordered "beer". After all, they were bordertowns and I wouldn't have been fooling anyone with my feeble attempt at Spanish. And I have no problem with that and neither did they. They understood that I didn't speak Spanish and were cool with it.

Now that's not to suggest that people living in our country shouldn't learn Spanish. Of course they should, but only for their own benefit. After all, they might have to talk to me, and I can't speak non-English. One time I was at one of my client's offices when some guy came in who didn't speak English and looked like he might have been drunk. And no matter how many times I tried to explain that I didn't speak Spanish, he persisted to ask me questions I couldn't possibly fathom. He either didn't know the English words "I don't speak Spanish" or was too drunk to understand. But either way, that guy really should learn a little more English.

But what's the point of getting angry about it? I was embarrassed, not mad. Sure, I couldn't help him, but that was his loss (I later learned from a bi-lingual employee that he wanted some temp work for cash.) But as we all know, this isn't about language. This is about being assholes. Because you can rest assured in knowing that these same people will always expect everyone to learn our language and culture, and don't give a shit about anyone else's no matter whose country they're in. This is just a powerplay, to force non-Americans to acknowledge our superiority.

When in Rome, Speak English

I'm writing about this after reading a story of a restaurant in Philadelphia which posted two signs saying: "This is AMERICA: WHEN ORDERING PLEASE 'SPEAK ENGLISH.'" And how the business is now being sued for discrimination.

Their lawyer insisted that this wasn't discriminatory, but merely an attempt to not let the line slow down due to people speaking in other languages; which is about as believable as my Spanish is. Because sure, I could see how that might slow things down, but it's obvious that the sign was meant to offend. Can you imagine going into a bar in Nuevo Laredo that had signs saying "Esto es MEXICO: AL ORDENAR POR FAVOR 'HABLA ESPAÑOL'" Even if you don't understand Spanish, you'd understand what they were trying to tell you with that sign and you'd know you didn't belong there. (And yes, I used a translation website to write that message.)

And if this was merely about translations, there'd be ways around it. Like a Spanish language menu with a number system or something. Hell, that's my preferred method of ordering at many of the Tex-Mex places around here, and they speak English. Or at least a sign that was more apologetic, and didn't act as if there was some expectation that the geographical location precluded people from speaking other languages. Or assuming the article quoted that correctly, perhaps if they just dropped the ALL-CAPS and "quotes" around 'SPEAK ENGLISH" it might help. But as is, it's obvious that the owner has a problem with immigrants and foreigners.

Cart Before Horse

And have I been missing all the free English as a Second Language programs that these people are pushing? You'd think if this was just a language issue that they'd want to do more to teach people to speak English. But as usual with these people, this isn't really about language at all.

Similarly, they'll insist that affirmative action programs should be replaced with better education systems for minorities, though they insist that we get rid of affirmative action first and make no promise about improving anyone's education. Or they'll insist that they oppose illegal aliens because they're illegal, but have no intention of establishing a better way for them to come here legally.

The truth is that they don't want Mexicans to speak English. They don't want them assimilated into our culture. And they don't want them educated and getting paid union wages. They want them gone. The language issue is just a shorthand way of discriminating while convincing themselves and others that they're not such bad guys for doing so. And it looks like this guy got caught. Again, if language was the issue, there are solutions for that. But if his problems are with Mexicans, then he's in trouble.

In fact, every problem I've seen associated with illegal aliens has to do with the fact that we're not doing more to get them here legally and assimilated into our system. From language issues, to border crossings, to low wages, to taxation issues; all of this could be solved if we allowed them in legally and educated them better. So while they blame illegal immigration for all these problems, it's obvious that the real problem lies entirely with their racism.

And so it is with most issues. The only solution conservatives will accept is the thing causing the biggest problems. We see this with anti-American terrorism, out of control deficits, healthcare, recessions, the Social Security "crisis", and now immigration; the Republican "cure" is one of the main causes of the disease.

1 comment:

Mumphrey Bibblesnæð said...

One of the most pathetic things about the "Speak English!" goons is that they have no understaning of history at all, or so it would seem.
People have been coming to what is now the United States for a long, long time without speaking the native tongue when they got here. Maybe they don't know that the first English settlers didn't know a whole lot of Algonquin when they landed at Jamestown.
And, jeez, the first European people living in much of what in now the U.S. spoke--wait for it--¡Español!
There are still a lot of Amish and Mennonites in the middle of Pennsylvania, where my father grew up, who speak Pennsylvania Dutch rather than English whenever they can, and nobody seems too steamed over that. Not so long ago, many of them didn't speak English at all, and nobody cared then, either. But then they make good tourist draws, so I guess that's all right.
I guess if the Republicans could think of a way to turn the Spanish speakers here into some kind of quaint, money-making anachronisms that tourists would come and gawk at, they would WANT the to speak Spanish.