Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

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Speak American

Res Publica

August 2016

by Sophia Leddy

At work last summer, a friend and I talked in Spanish once in awhile when we worked together. One of our co-workers would ultimately jokingly say,“speak American,” meaning that we should speak English.Yet because the United States is a nation of immigrants whose uniting cause is freedom, it is absurd that we associate the United States with English just as we associate Germany with German,France with French, and so on.Who cares if an immigrant speaks Spanish? The United States is not a blood-and-soil country, which is explicitly spelled out in the first Federalist Paper that calls us a nation founded on“reflection and choice”rather than“accident and force” (soil and blood). There are many different people here with different backgrounds and cultures that all believe in the same American values. Unlike these nations, America is not homogeneous. Immigration is fundamental to the United States, especially since many of the Americans at the time of the Founding were immigrants who did not speak English.

It is not un-American to speak languages other than English.That is why the Founders often used German and Latin in their writings. Unless the Founders should not serve as a basis for discussion about American values,it seems clear that, because they spoke other languages fluently, they were not opposed to speaking or learning those languages.In fact,it is ridiculous to say that because something is not written in English, it cannot produce values of freedom. Most of the influential books in the creation of the United States were written in Greek, Latin, and even French. Many also refer to the Bible as being an instrument of freedom, yet its original languages were Hebrew and Greek, among others. English was not the chosen language of God,so why is it placed on a pedestal in the United States?

English is not the official language of the United States. There isn’t even a specific American English dialect: take as an example the carbonated drink debate. Is it pop,soda, or coke? Different dialects and regions use a different word for the same fizzy drink. By this logic,there isn’t one specific accent that is more “American” than others. However, since all dialects and accents of English are apparently “American,” why is it that a British citizen is not“speaking American?”

Some might argue that the reason “speaking American” is speaking English is because those who come here should want to assimilate and learn “our” language. Yet even in the process of assimilation,which does not happen overnight,the new arrivals bring some of their words and cultures into the mix.“American”is constantly changing to reflect the cultures of new Americans, and language is a part of that culture change. For example, almost every American knows words like tortilla. Similarly, America constantly takes words from other languages. “American” is a compilation of many words from many cultures. Eventually, children of immigrants can speak English well.It is not that people do not want to assimilate, but that it is very difficult to learn a new language as an adult, so it takes a while. In the meantime, those who say things like “speak American” should stop being hostile without any justification.

Everyone deep down can understand American values despite their various backgrounds, so even if a person speaks another language, they can still speak American. If their realization of their self-evident rights comes in a different language, a real American would say,“Congratulations!You understand!” instead of“speak American.”New immigrants “speak American” because they come here for the prosperity and values of our country and therefore, “speaking American” in the truest sense. “Speaking American” seems only to be used to tell those speaking another language to speak “American-style” English no matter the context. This being the objective of “speaking American,” it stands to reason that denouncing America while speaking American-style English would still be American. American style English should not be a way for so-called Americans to show their hatred for America, but rather for true Americans to communicate with one another. True Americans would not feel threatened by another language gaining popularity because their rights are not affected. Instead, these Americans should not try to trample the rights of others to speak freely. If I praise the values of America, it does not matter what language I speak: I am being American. If I denounce America while speaking in “American-style”English,the language does not matter: I am being un-American. This concept seems to be a widely misunderstood, for those who say misguided phrases such as“speak American” do not seem to grasp that American values extend beyond language and race.I am quite able to speak in Spanish about natural rights, or derechos naturales. If I want to say los Estados Unidos es el mejor país por todo el mundo, or The United States is the best country in the world, I should not be told to “speak American.” These Americans should stop wasting the words that their government has so kindly acknowledged as being rightfully theirs, and instead they should try preaching the values of freedom so others can possibly enjoy the same natural rights. Instead, “speaking American” should be more concerned with speaking according to American values and concepts, especially libertad, or liberty. Speaking American is more than just saying words – it is the nobility that comes from a free mind expressing itself with words.