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Results for "February, 2007"

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  • You can save this endangered language for only pennies a day; or you could let it die.

    According to some alarming estimates, half of the worlds 7,000 languages will die by the end of this century. English, French, and Arabic probably wont be among them. Some people try to save the endangered languages by writing grammars and dictionaries and encouraging their use among schoolchildren, or by videotaping the few remaining speakers on the off chance that future generations will want to revive the lost tongue.

  • The English Language Unity Act of 2007: It takes more than a language to unify a nation

    After centuries of welcoming the worlds tired, poor, huddled masses to our shores, Americans are sending out a new message: Speak English, or get out. In response to increases in immigration, both legal and otherwise, and to controversial translations of the national anthem and pledge of allegiance, 28 states and increasing numbers of cities across the U.S. are declaring English their official language. Theres even a Pennsylvania sandwich shop where you cant order the famous Philly cheese steak unless you order it in English.

  • In the war against English, we won't be undersold

    Theres a war against English, and its being led by our former allies, the French. First Maurice Druon, a member of the prestigious Acadmie Franaise, proposed making French the official legal language of the European Union. Now Georges Hage, the communist Dean of the French National Assembly, has joined with other militants to call for a social, political, and linguistic action defending French against Anglo-American domination.

  • A panda walks into a bar, or, why language self-help books help nobody

    Americans are convinced that theres a right and a wrong way to write something. We gleefully point out other peoples language mistakes, though many of us secretly worry that given half a chance, wed use who when we should be using whom, or put the comma in the wrong place. So we buy books to find the answer.

  • French the most legal language, say the French

    Because of its precision, the French language is safest to use for the European Union’s legal business, says French writer and former permanent secretary of the Académie Française Maurice Druon.

    EU rules presently stipulate that the language controlling the interpretation of any given law is the one in which it was originally written.  But the EU has 28 official languages (Irish, the most recent, was added only last month).  Druon’s answer to this Tower of Babel: use French to resolve legal disputes – after all, it’s related to Latin and it’s the language of the Napoleonic Code.  

    But following that sort of logic, the EU’s legal language should be Italian – it’s closer to Latin than French is – or maybe even English.  After all, the American Constitution predates the Code Napoléon by a good fifteen years, and Britain was governed by a Parliament long before France started chopping off the heads of monarchs.

  • Joe Biden's Obama moment, or, I love it when you talk white to me

    When Joe Biden characterized Barack Obama to the New York Observeras “the first mainstream African-American who is articulate,” he revealed the kind of linguistic prejudice that too often passes for acceptable in white America.  

    Biden made this remark about his Senate colleague in an interview in which he disparaged his other rivals for the Democratic presidential nomination as having a position on Iraq that is “nothing but disaster” (Hillary Clinton) and not knowing “what the heck he’s talking about” (John Edwards).  Calling Obama well-spoken as well as “bright and clean and a nice-looking guy” didn’t seem so bad in comparison. 

    But it was the Obama moment, not the other insults, that threatened to derail Biden’s candidacy, because it revealed an insensitivity both subtler and in some ways more pernicious than Virginia Senator George Allen’s use of macaca, an overt slur which contributed to Allen’s defeat in the last election. 

  • Friendswood, Texas, may soon give residents the right to speak to town employees in English

    According to the Houston Chronicle, the Friendswood, Texas, city council may soon pass a law requiring that “every person in Friendswood is entitled to be able to communicate with City Council or city employees in English, to receive information from or contribute information to city employees in English, and to be notified of official orders in English.”

    The key word here is entitled.  Anyone in Friendswood should be able to walk into City Hall and find out the name of the mayor, in English.  Or call up the local police station to report a burglary, in English.  Or learn whether a fence they’re building conforms to zoning requirements, in English.   

    As its name implies, Friendswood was founded by Quakers and for much of its history it was a quiet farming settlement with a population under 1,000.  But now Friendswood is a bedroom community for Houston, with a median income of $117,000 and a commitment to “traditional values,” one of which seems to require legal status for English.  

  • Spanish Pledge of Allegiance? Oy vey, can you see it's deja vu all over again?

    José Velasquez immigrated from El Salvador to North Carolina six years ago, learned to speak English fluently, and did so well in his studies that he graduated early from high school last month.  José eventually hopes to join the police force, and he was profiled last year in the Charlotte Observer as an example of the American dream.  But when he was asked to lead the Garinger High School graduation in the Pledge of Allegiance, first in English, and then again in Spanish for the benefit of Spanish-speaking parents in the audience, Velasquez rekindled a debate over the appropriate language of patriotism that first flared up last spring when promoters released a controversial recording of the “Star-Spangled Banner” in Spanish. 

    About the same time that Velasquez was stirring things up out east, Chandra Carlson, a student in Nampa, Idaho, became a local hero when she sat down to protest a recitation of the pledge in Spanish in her fifth-grade classroom.  She says she sat down because she didn’t understand the words, but Carlson’s fans are hailing her as the next Rosa Parks.