Officially Speaking: A Senate bill introduced this August would make English the official language o

    As any self-aware American can tell you, life can be broken down into three basic cycles — birth, death and filling out extensive government paperwork for just about everything in between. Similarly, he or she could direct you almost immediately to the back or bottom of said forms, on which every direction is printed in some combination of other languages — or at the very least, in Spanish. Even an agency like the Department of Motor Vehicles, known for making everything as inconvenient as possible, has a sister Web site “en Español.” One then must wonder: Is this societal norm merely a courtesy, or a crutch for those who do not speak English?

    Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.) clearly agrees with the latter, having proposed a bill on Aug. 3 that would effectively conduct all official U.S. business in English, thus removing bilingual messages from government documents. According to Inhofe’s Web site, the purpose of the bill is not to discriminate against non-English speakers, but to encourage integration among the people of our nation.

    While at first glance it may seem rash to eliminate this stepping stone altogether, proficiency in English is already required by law in order to be a citizen of the United States. In that sense, the sentiment behind Inhofe’s bill is neither revolutionary nor particularly shocking. But it does make an effort to address those people who — for one reason or another — have slipped through the cracks, and currently live in America without speaking her language.

    Though English is admittedly difficult to learn — one may argue that there are certain economic barriers to adequate education in the United States — many resources are available for those who actively seek to participate in facets of American life. Whether it’s a regular secondary and university education, adult education programs, or vocational English classes to train people for certain careers, the ways one can learn English outnumber the excuses why he or she cannot.

    When it comes down to it, there really is no legitimate excuse for adult citizens not knowing the language that dictates business in their country of residence. Many nonspeakers with English-speaking children or spouses rely on their loved ones as interpreters for official business, providing yet another step of distance in a culturally polarized society with little integration between its economic classes. Multiply that by the more than 36 million people living in California alone, and it poses some questions without easy answers.

    As such, the real issue becomes clear: How much cultural isolationism can America take before something is done about it?

    Some of Inhofe’s main detractors have called the quest for linguistic homogeneity racially motivated and counterintuitive to America’s once-welcoming stance on immigration. However, as clearly outlined in the bill, race and discrimination play no part in the rationale behind this movement. The bill would not pertain to religious services, training for international communications or schools that encourage bilingual education supplemental to English. For senior citizens in the process of acclimating to a new language, an interpreter can be provided under Inhofe’s bill. The legislation is as accommodating as possible, without deviating from the core message. Ultimately, according to recent polls by Zogby International, 84 percent of Americans — including 77 percent of Latinos — agree with making English the national language.

    Still, failed attempts at similar legislation in the past show that the concept behind this proposal has not been — and will not be — universally accepted. Whether it boils down to partisan politics, underlying social agendas or good old-fashioned spin doctoring, it’s clear that some feel they deserve to be exceptions to the standards to which every citizen is expected to adhere. However, like the parent who pushes his shy child into a room full of new faces and says, “play,” the end result of common language interaction can only help these new Americans interact with those around them instead of isolating themselves. The gratification may not be instant, but later the child will be more well-rounded and worldly because of it.

    While the process of making every American fluent in English is certainly not one to be taken lightly, the benefits ultimately outweigh the temporary inconvenience. The goal in this process is not the exclusion of minorities or any groups for that matter — the goal is the inclusion of all those who live in the United States under the one, overarching cultural characteristic that defines us as Americans.

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