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  • English: The official national language of the United States

    In the summer of 2006, the U.S. Senate passed an amendment to the Immigration Law that would make English the national language of the United States. Later the same day it passed another amendment making English our common and unifying language. While political analysts and lexicographers scrambled to figure out whether a national language is divisive, and a common one, unifying, the Senate settled on making English national rather than common, without saying what that might mean.

  • Jose Can You See? National anthem in Spanish--but will the kids dance to it?

    At a news conference at the end of May, 2006,  President Bush rejected a Spanish-language version of “The Star-Spangled Banner” that hit the airwaves in conjunction with the May 1 “Day without Immigrants.” Mr. Bush told reporters, “I think the national anthem ought to be sung in English, and I think people who want to be a citizen of this country ought to learn English and they ought to learn to sing the national anthem in English."

    Referring both to the immigration debate and to the controversial Spanish recording of “Nuestro Himno,” which alternates between a close translation of the national anthem and a loose one, the president added, “One of the things that’s very important is when we debate this issue that we not lose our national soul.”

  • English: the Official language of the Philly Cheese Steak

    English may not be the official language of the United States, but it is the official language of Genos Steaks, a Philadelphia landmark specializing in cheese steaks. Thats because eight months ago Genos owner Joseph Vento filled his restaurant with signs reading, This is America. When ordering speak English.

  • Official English in Bogota, New Jersey?

    In July, 2006, Steve Lonegan, the mayor of Bogota, New Jersey (pop. 7,344), called for a boycott of McDonalds over a Spanish-language billboard that the company put up in his town. The mayor feels that a Spanish billboard one that McDonalds also put up in other towns in New York and New Jersey discourages assimilation and signals the hamburger giants support ofillegal immigration. When his boycott didnt work -- the billboard remains and hamburgers continue to be sold -- Lonegan put a measure on the November ballot to make his town English-only.

  • Pluto re-enters underworld

    This week the International Astronomical Union downgraded Pluto from planet to dwarf planet. Discovered in 1930 and named after the Roman god of the underworld because it was so far from the sun, Pluto quickly became the ninth planet in the solar system because it was initially thought to be larger than the earth. Pluto's planetary status came into question not long after, when it became clear that the new object was actually smaller than the earth's moon. A move in 1999 to reclassify Pluto was abandoned after schoolchildren mounted a letter-writing campaign to save the lonely planet from ignominy. But the discovery three years ago of 2003 UB 313, known to her friends as Xena, an object in solar orbit that is both bigger than Pluto and farther from the sun, sealed Pluto's fate.

  • Google rules that google isn't a word

    Giant Google to take over English language

  • Language politics in the news

  • OMG, OMG, text messages actually improve spelling

    I promised in the last post to balance political stories about language with more conventional language issues. While many news stories focus on languages in conflict (Ukrainian v. Russian in the Ukraine; Flemish v. French in Belgium; English v. Spanish in Hilton Head, S.C. and (again) in Bogota, NJ, two other threads stand out in news stories over the past ten days:

  • Is English endangered?

    While supporters of official English insist on protecting the language spoken universally in the United States from all enemies foreign and domestic, a new report from California confirms what data from the 2000 Census already suggested, that immigrants to the U.S. are losing their language and becoming monolingual English speakers. And theyre doing it fast.

  • National Punctuation Day

    Sept. 24 (today!) is National Punctuation Day®. That's not to be confused with National Handwriting Day, which comes on Jan. 23. National Handwriting Day is sponsored by the Writing Instrument Manufacturers Association (WIMA) and is held annually near John Hancock's birthday, which is Jan. 12, because although no one remembers his birthday, John Hancock had the most famous American signature of all time.

  • U.S. government rewrites dictionary, or, twisting the definition of torture

    Common Article III of the Geneva Convention (1949) prohibits cruel treatment and torture. It prohibits violence to life and person, and humiliating and degrading treatment. And it requires signatories to provide prisoners of war all the judicial guarantees which are recognized as indispensable by civilized people. Civilized people might read this and think, What part of 'don't torture prisoners' do you not understand? But administration officials want the language of the Geneva convention clarified, which means that they want to define for themselves offenses like torture, cruel and unusual punishment, and habeas corpus the right of an accused to know the charges and fight them in a court of law.

  • All bloggers are liars

    The Cretan philosopher Epimenides is famous for his paradoxical statement, All Cretans are liars. The paradox is pretty clear. If hes from Crete and tells you that Cretans lie, then his statement is itself a lie. But if hes lying when he says that Cretans are liars, then.... As Gilbert and Sullivan put it, a paradox, a paradox, a most ingenious paradox.

  • Grammar: Good for your health?

    Students have always considered grammar a deadly subject, but the journal Nature is reporting that grammar may actually be a life saver.  Applying the rules of grammar, a team of MIT scientists has created new peptides which fight disease by destroying bacteria.  In a convincing demonstration that grammar is not only healthful, it’s also vital to our national security, two of the peptides even destroyed anthrax bacteria.

    We’ve suspected for centuries that grammar, known to be a nonaddictive sleep aid, may also be a powerful aphrodisiac.  Although grammar didn’t do much for Stanley Kowalski in his pleas to win back Stella in Tennessee Williams' Streetcar Named Desire, Sir Philip Sidney plied the powers of grammar in a sonnet sequence in order to get his own Stella to submit to his amorous advances.  Instead of animalistic cries of “Stella, Stella,” Sidney’s Astrophil takes the brainy approach, arguing that since grammar says two negatives make a positive, Stella’s “No, no” is actually a “Yes” (sonnet lxiii).

  • Grammar's back in school

    Daniel De Vise reports in the Washington Post that grammar is coming back to the high school English class in response to the SAT's new essay. 

    Explicit grammatical instruction has cycled in and out of the school curriculum since the mid-1800s.  It was first seen as an aid to good writing, then a deterrent, then an aid, then a deterrent.  And now it's back again as an aid, not to good writing, but to higher test scores. 

    The writing sample on the SAT is only worth about 200 of the 800 points students can earn on the new writing-and-grammar section, while grammar accounts for the other 600 points.  So it's natural to expect that schools, constantly pressured to teach what will be tested, will focus not on nurturing a writer's voice while developing critical and analytical skills, but on drilling students in the difference between a noun and a split infinitive. 

    That, to me, is not grammar.  And it won't make for better writers.

  • Stood the course, now what? Favorite Bush slogan is retired

    George Bush is looking for a few good slogans.  His mission in Iraq accomplished, he stood the course till Aug. 31, the last time he used the phrase “stay the course” in public, according to White House press secretary, Tony Snow.  

    Faced with dwindling support for the war at home, throughout the world, and worst of all, in Iraq itself, not to mention fading Republican hopes for the midterm election, the president did what all good advertising executives do when their campaigns go south, he cut and ran.

    Of course he can’t say that, not out in the open.  So Snow explained to reporters that stay the course “left the wrong impression about what was going on.”