Thoughts, essays, and writings on Liberty. Written by the heirs of Patrick Henry.

April 9, 2007

We Should Make English The National Language

by Brad Warbiany

As any regular reader knows, I’m for nearly-unlimited immigration. Basically as long as you can certify that you’re not a felon in your home country, or have ties to terrorist organizations, I welcome you to come on over and work. But in one area, I go the exact opposite direction of most pro-immigration advocates. I want to see English declared America’s official language.

Now, I say that as someone who doesn’t have a bit of problem with the “Press 1 for English” messages on phone trees. Nor do I have a problem going into Mexican restaurants where the waiters barely understand me. As far as I’m concerned, if a restauranteur chooses to hire people who can’t speak English, he’d better be selling some darn good food. And I’ve found in many Mexican restaurants, the ones where barely anyone English tend to sell the best food. In fact, in order to make myself more able to communicate with people, I’m actually beginning to learn to speak Spanish. It will only make me more valuable to employers. Yet I still advocate for making English our official language.

I don’t see any reason, in a nation which is far overwhelmingly English-speaking, why our government can’t declare that all official government business will be conducted in English. As an example, I did a quick google search on “DMV Languages”, which took me to a site that explained that in the state of Connecticut, they offer written tests in 19 different languages. They offer the test in 32 languages in California.

Now, I fully support the rights of business owners to decide what language they conduct business in. After all, it is their determination how much cost they’re willing to undertake in order to cater to ridiculously small minorities. But when it comes to government, we’re supposedly the business owners. Do I want to use my tax dollars to have a driver’s license test printed in Hmong? There are some points where people should be expected to either learn the language, or provide a translator at their own cost to deal with the government.

The problem is that government isn’t forced into conducting business in multiple languages in order to meet true market demand. They do so when some local representative’s constituents (usually in an ethnic enclave) demand of that representative that they make a change, and the folks in the state legislature have no incentive to oppose the demand. It’s not that they engage in a cost-benefit analysis to see if they’ll be spending tax dollars efficiently, because they don’t have a market to benefit from. One of the downsides of having a government is that it can set certain terms unilaterally, but they refrain from doing so where it will mean efficiency and cost reductions in their processes. Government isn’t exactly good at customer service anyway, so why don’t we at least try to cut the cost?

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  • LLR

    I too believe that English should be our official language. With the huge influx of immigrants (both legal and illegal) from Mexico, there is a “need” to make sure that damn Democrats aren’t making English our second language. Is it not bad enough that some public schools have to hire people just to talk/teach children of immigrants.

    Government forms/docs should be in English only, but I also recognize the right of the private property owner. IF he wants all of his menus in Spanish he should be able to do so. Just don’t go calling your local rep asking them to pass a law requiring that I have bilingual bathroom signs, menus, etc.

  • nobody

    well, the u.s. did accept a few hundred thousand hmong refugees in gratitude for the vietnam war. seems not such a big expense to translate the dmv test after flying them all over here.

  • http://www.mainstreamlibertarian.com Eric Dondero

    Brad, email me off-list with your address and I’ll send you a free copy of my latest book “Vacation Spanish: Survival Skills for Mexico, the Caribbean, Central and South America.”

    It’s written by a libertarian for fellow cultural libertarians. Lots of real Spanish, that you hear on the street. Not the upper-crest variety.

    Eric Dondero, Author
    Worldwide Multilingual Phrase Book

  • Wild Pegasus

    But when it comes to government, we’re supposedly the business owners.

    You’re not. But if you are, aren’t the Hmong-speaking immigrants also owners?

    – Josh

  • tarran

    Frankly, I am not convinced by the argument that the increased taxes due to translation costs justifies requiring immigrants to speak English.

    Since it is a utilitarian argument, I will look at it from that perspective:

    How expensive are translations for street signs? For brochures? I would argue that they are fairly small. At most, they consume 5% of taxes and that is being generous.

    What is the benefit of open immigration? Well, the influx of people increases the pool of available labor, and allows greater specialization and division of labor, so there is a net positive.

    For the utilitarian argument to hold, one has to argue that the increase in productivity is negated by the increase in taxes for the translations. I find this highly unlikely- the immigrants would have to not be contributing minimal amounts of taxes for that to hold.

    In order to have a case against the default arragnement, open immigration, it is incumbent upon those citing the increase in taxes negating the benefits of increased productivity to demonstrate that they are right with some hard numbers.

    From a moral perspective it is a no brainer. The default postion is open-immigration – people should be free to rent of buy homes wherever they want, and conduct their business however they want so long as they are peacable and not committing fraud.

    The fact that the depredations and interference of government officials are made more difficult by the inability of the these officials to communicate with their victims er.. subjects, and thus cause the government officials to demand more money from the population at large at gunpoint in no way is the fault of these immigrants.

    The problem is the depredations of the government officials. This is a problem created by coercive government. It will not be solved by expanding the coercion.

  • Sean

    No mames, güey.

    I think this falls under the traditional libertarian category of “Whether it’s a good idea and whether it should be mandatory are two different discussions; you don’t have to force a good idea on people.” Immigrants naturally do learn the majority language of the country, because it makes sense. They’re’ve been studies on it. (Which I’ve read, along with a lot of other stuff on second language acquisition, since I used to be a Spanish teacher.)

    In the case of bilingual education, we know for a fact that students learn better when they can discuss new ideas in their first language, while they’re learning their second language. Knowledge transfers easily between languages. I can talk about a dissociative fugue in English, for example, even though I learned about the condition in Spanish. (Of course, privatize the schools and end compulsory education, ESL goes the way of everybody’s individual choice and no need for any one group to force their ways on another group.) Likewise, I don’t see how English ability has anything to do with driving ability. If that were the case, I could think of a number of native English speakers who need their licenses revoked. :-)

    And how much does the translation really cost? Most translation work is done on a consulting basis, not as a full-time salaried position. I have a hard time imagining that translation is the Swiss citizen’s most oppressive tax burden, for example. The Founders translated the Declaration of Independence into every language in the colonies to make sure everyone understood. It wasn’t all that hard then, I doubt it’s that hard now.

  • uhm
  • G MAN

    i think it should be allowed to speak other languages i mean like it was first fond from indians then christopher colombus who is spanish found florida which is a popular country

  • http://whitedragonflagofengland.com John Green

    Although I am writing as an Englishman, from England – where it all started, I do not have an ‘axe to grind’.

    The importance of the English language arises from its adoption as the primary and sole means of international communication. It follows that for the individual or the nation to progress and prosper, that skill in the use of the English language – the language of commerce, law, science, politics and the arts is a prerequisite.

    I offer one example: it is estimated that about 95% of all scientific papers are published solely in English. In Great Britain, in recent times, we have experienced a huge and largely uncontrolled influx of immigration. Our authorities, deluded in the belief that multi linguilism was the correct approach, have encouraged and maintained a divisive and fragmented immigrant population unable to communicate with the majority. Chaos results. These immigrant peoples cannot progress save within their own ranks – so begin the inevitable ghettos. America beware!

    John Green

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