Resisting the pull of cynicism since 1969.

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Legislation and the cultural divide

Canadians are always astonished when I quiz them about what they think the official language of the United States is. "English," they guess. Nope. "English and Spanish?" they say, trying again. Sorry. The U.S. simply doesn't have any official-language legislation. Most American signs bear only English, but if it's an area where more Spanish is spoken, it's both perfectly legal and not at all unusual to see only Spanish, and many places will have both. And while there is a fringe group that keeps pushing to make English the official national language, the general opinion among most Americans is one of: "If it ain't broke, don't fix it."

Given Canada's own rather fraught history with language laws, it's always fun to shock Canadians by telling them that the U.S. gets along just fine without any such beasties. And yet they're not nearly as surprised as Americans are to discover that the most analogous issue in the reverse direction--in which Canada simply doesn't have any legislation on the matter and things work out just fine with very few legal repercussions--is abortion.


AWR said...

I once read somewhere that, when the US was established, they took a vote on what the official language of the then colonies should be. German almost became the official language of the US, but lost out to English by literally a handful of votes.

Idealistic Pragmatist said...


I've heard that story, too, but unfortunately, it's not true.

Anonymous said...

I heard/read/saw, though I cannot confirm this with a valid source, that the other languages vying for the position of US official language were Greek, French, and - brace yourself - Russian.

And what is this nonsense that is feebly attempting to promote? One language does not unite a nation. Diversity does a much better job. Just ask David Crystal.

Olaf said...

It seems the Bush administration is aware of hector's criticism:

They're retooling the "war on terror" as a "struggle against violent extremism".