Tuesday, July 08, 2003

Can you hear me now?

Some topics seem to stir debate no matter what.

Religion. Abortion. Flag burning. Language.

Language?

Yes, language.

Monday I got a phone call during my show from Joe in Tonawanda. Joe is an avid listener who unfortunately is moving from Western New York. He has but a few more days left to participate in Dialog and he will be missed.

But Monday, Joe and I were in disagreement.

You see, he thinks we should have a national language declared and it should, of course, be English.

Joe is certainly not alone, check www.us-english.org for instance.

But as happens now and again, I disagreed with my caller, thanked him for his time, and bid him a good day.

And the flood gates opened.

I got several more phone calls on the topic and have received a handful of emails in the few hours since I signed off from the radio.

A few people understood my point of view. Most called me names.

I talked with one gentleman for several minutes trying to simply explain myself to him - not even necessarily trying to get him to agree with me - just to understand where I was coming from.

A lot of problems in life come from people not understanding where other people are coming from. The ability to agree to disagree begins with understanding of what it is you're disagreeing about.

We could not see eye-to-eye on our disagreement.

After a brief commercial break, I joked that we were both speaking English and still didn't understand one another.

Then the emails ...

I think this one sums it up:

  • "I don't understand how you fail to see the importance of an official language for this country ... Common sense dictates that should you or I permanently relocate to another country, we learn the language of that country ... I think most Americans feel that it is grossly unfair that millions upon millions of tax dollars be used for expensive interpreters and extra printed materials for immigrants that simply refuse to learn the "common language" of this country."

    I don't disagree with this person's two points, but don't understand how that means we should have an official language.

    Common sense also dictates, for example, that we should neither drink alcohol nor smoke tobacco products as they are bad for us. But we rail when government tries to impose rules on us to prevent us from doing so.

    And at no point did I say we should require interpreters or create extra printed materials. I just didn't say it.

    See, there's a leap of assumption that because I don't want an "official" language that I want to allow special privilege for those who don't speak English. But I didn't say that. Sorry.

    The big problem in the end here is that it doesn't matter what language we're speaking in, if we don't listen to one another, it just doesn't matter.

    My main objection to designating an "official" language is that it does nothing but alienate those of us who do not speak English.

    I also think that language is a scapegoat for some people. They can't say what they really want, so they use language as an excuse.

    What many people really mean is that they want people to be like them - white, Anglo-Saxon, Christians - but they can't say that, so they say, "learn the language."

    I say, laissez faire.