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Did you know the USA has no official language? Last week, I sat in an Arlington, Virginia Immigration Court with two of my teenage clients from El Salvador. The room was stuffed with illegals waiting for their first hearing before the Court. This is standard practice, where the Judge sits on the bench, calls one party after the other, and reads the Department of Homeland Security's charges against the illegal. Over 80% of the people in the tiny room had no attorney, and simply showed up because they were instructed to, without the ability to speak or understand any English. However, this is the USA, the country with no native tongue, so there is no cause for concern. :)

Interpreters are provided for everyone in the Courts. Immediately, the Judge explained to the entire crowd why they were there, the purpose of the proceeding, and then echoed the magic words that "no one will be deported today...on this day, only the charges against you will be read, and you must designate a country for removal in the event you are not granted legal status in the U.S. at your full hearing." Absolutely every word the Judge spoke was immediately translated into Spanish by a live Court interpreter. At every Court appearance, and even at full hearings, an Interpreter is provided for non-English speakers free of charge. Sometimes the Interpreter is arranged in advance, sometimes you hear urgent calls over the Court intercoms for a Chinese interpreter, an Arabic interpreter, even Vietnamese. The list of languages is endless...


Why does America have no official language? Because the founding Fathers left this issue out when they drafted the U.S. Constitution. At almost every session of Congress, an amendment to the Constitution, making English the official language of the USA, is proposed. The proposed legislation usually reads something like this:

"The English language shall be the official language of the United States. As the official language, the English language shall be used for all public acts including every order, resolution, vote, or election, and for all records and judicial proceedings of the Government of the United States and the Governments of the several States."

Yet these Constitutional amendments have never passed at the Federal level. It's not really surprising given that America is an immigrant nation, the melting pot of the world where many cultures blend together to form a singular nation. At the State level, many regions have made English their official language for government business. Actually, I was quite surprised when I looked at the map, which you can see below. Why has only one of the New England States made English the official language?? Strange!

us-states

The majority of Americans (over 85% in recent polls) support making English the official language at ALL levels, and it's a constant source of debate and aggravation. I've seen protests here in Washington, DC on the issue several times.

Private owner of a small restaurant :)

english-only

Bumper sticker on car:

speak_english_or_get_the_hell_out_s10

A Georgia driver who is passionate about the topic. :)

amnety2

Personally, I have mixed feelings on this issue. I think interpreters should be provided at the Court and judicial level, but I also find it extremely annoying to call any service provider on the telephone and immediately hear an option to "Press 1" for Spanish. Similarly, it's common to be in a restaurant or retail space and encounter workers who don't understand or speak any English, despite the fact that they are working with the public. If you visit certain parts of the USA, including some neighborhoods in my area, you may feel that Spanish is the official language of the country. :)

What do you think? Should interpreters be provided in Courts? How does it work in Russia? If someone doesn't understand Russian are they out of luck? Or, will the Courts try to provide translation assistance? And the main question - can a country without an official language ever be truly unified?


Comments

( 213 comments — Leave a comment )
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2tvlad
Jul. 6th, 2015 04:08 pm (UTC)
thanks. 1:20


peacetraveler22
Jul. 6th, 2015 04:17 pm (UTC)
I don't see anything special at minute 1:20? I watched these fireworks from my apartment balcony on Saturday. :) Unfortunately, we had very bad weather that day and it was a bit foggy.
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Stan Podolski
Jul. 6th, 2015 04:23 pm (UTC)
--- it's common to be in a restaurant or retail space and encounter workers who don't understand or speak any English

why not leave it to the 'invisible hand of the market'? My lucky guess that worker can call the english speaking waiter. Or most probably that restaurant will be out of business in just couple weeks

Government business is a different one, there is no competition and they are not (should not be at least, forget about speed limits, hehe) in the business of making money

*sorry, dont care about Russia
peacetraveler22
Jul. 6th, 2015 04:27 pm (UTC)
This is mostly a problem at fast food chains, where almost every worker is a Spanish speaker. Governments are not in the business of making money, that's true. But they spend a lot of tax dollars and resources providing all of these translators in Courts to accommodate non-English speakers.
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a_nimaida
Jul. 6th, 2015 04:36 pm (UTC)
if the United States was the official language, the government will have to admit that in the US there are other languages besides English.
cunning congressmen)


http://www.breitbart.com/texas/2015/06/26/same-sex-marriage-texas-governor-issues-directive-on-religious-liberty/
Shannon, what do you think about this?
peacetraveler22
Jul. 6th, 2015 05:10 pm (UTC)
In Texas, people are crazy! :)) I support religious freedom, but if someone is working for the government, they can not disobey laws due to their religious or moral convictions. This is what some workers in Texas are trying to to. For example, one Clerk who refuses to issue marriage licenses for gay couples after the recent Supreme Court decision. You can read about her in this article http://www.thenewcivilrightsmovement.com/davidbadash/same_sex_couple_sues_after_texas_clerk_refuses_to_issue_marriage_license_and_calls_cops_on_them.

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perycalypsis
Jul. 6th, 2015 04:41 pm (UTC)
English is made up of various parts of tongues. For example, words pig and bull have German/Saxon roots whereas pork and beef - French ones. Because the English nobles who ate pork and beef were of French origin whereas saxon slaves looked after livestock.
Is judicial English mostly close French ?
peacetraveler22
Jul. 6th, 2015 05:11 pm (UTC)
Judicial English is the same as normal English. :) There is no real distinction, however there are definitely "terms of art" and words which most often are only understood by those with legal training.
(no subject) - creaze - Jul. 7th, 2015 06:38 am (UTC) - Expand
zhang_fei
Jul. 6th, 2015 04:56 pm (UTC)
Making English language official in the United States won't stop Spanish speaking people from providing unskilled labour:) Yes, such worker might learn 50 words in English, but, at the end of the day, if he's annoyed by your order in a restaurant, he'll try to call you "puta" in his mother tongue.
peacetraveler22
Jul. 6th, 2015 05:13 pm (UTC)
Yes, this is what many people who oppose the concept say. :) Making English the official language will not force people to learn it. The desire to learn the language and fully integrate into American society is solely a personal choice. You can't force someone to do it, it must come from within, based solely on an individual's own will and self-determination.
mybathroom
Jul. 6th, 2015 04:58 pm (UTC)
It's an interesting fact about the US! Russian language is an official language and this fact written in our constitution. If a person doesn't know Russian, he has a right that all documents and speech must translate to his or her native language.
peacetraveler22
Jul. 6th, 2015 05:15 pm (UTC)
How is it in Russia? Do a lot of the illegal workers from former Soviet countries, esp. the "stan" countries, understand or speak Russian? Or, have they lost the ability over the decades? Btw, did you like Spain? :)) How did you communicate with locals - in English?
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golemming
Jul. 6th, 2015 05:10 pm (UTC)
i personally see it as bad manners when people here in Russia speak their native language when they clearly know russian. It's one thing when you simply do not know foreign language, and completely another when.

Well, your country is a psychodelic mix of different cultures, so it's expectable. Remember dialog from film "Interstate 60"?



Bob Cody: Ever hear of Frederick Turner, Mr. Oliver?
Neal Oliver: No, sir.
Bob Cody: Well, he was an historian. About a hundred years ago he came up with a theory about the frontier. He said the frontier was a safety valve for civilization, a place for people to go to keep from goin' mad. So, whenever there were folks who couldn't fit in with the way things were, nuts, and malcontents, and extremists, they'd pack up and head for the frontier. That's how America got started - all the crackpots and troublemakers in Europe packed up and went to a frontier which became the thirteen colonies. When some people couldn't fit in with that, they moved farther west, which is why all the nuts eventually ended up in California.

Edited at 2015-07-06 05:10 pm (UTC)
peacetraveler22
Jul. 6th, 2015 05:21 pm (UTC)
Based on my travels, I think most of the nuts are in Kansas and Texas, not California. :))
qi_tronic
Jul. 6th, 2015 05:17 pm (UTC)
America is a strange country in many aspects (compared to European countries) so I'm not surprised :)

The common official language should be called American (or Americano, probably :)) )

BTW the largest ancestry in the US is German :)

Proof:
en. wikipedia. org/wiki/Race_and_ethnicity_in_the_United_States

Sure, interpreters should be provided in courts otherwise it would be injust.
In Russia they are provided too, AFAIK.

BTW in places like Texas roadsigns are already in two languages and that's because someone do not want to reproduce ...
peacetraveler22
Jul. 6th, 2015 05:19 pm (UTC)
As I wrote above, Texas is strange! :) Next time I visit Russia, it would be interesting to go to a court proceeding. I think some of my readers are lawyers; however, I'm not even sure this is allowed. In the U.S., most courts are open. Anyone can walk in and view a trial, unless children are involved.
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mjol1nir
Jul. 6th, 2015 05:22 pm (UTC)
What do you think as lawyer about the female teacher jailed to 22 years for sex with 17-age boys? There is a big discussion in Russian facebook.
peacetraveler22
Jul. 6th, 2015 05:28 pm (UTC)
Yes, I saw some posts about this on LJ, and it's strange that this teacher has captured the attention of Russians. There have been several cases where U.S. teachers have had sex with students. This one is really bad, she should definitely be in jail for a long time because she was a repeat offender. It didn't happen just one time. Also, I find it very curious that many Russian males think this is okay because it was a female teacher and young boy. :)) One of my readers said it's not a problem because "all boys want sex!" Strange logic. :)
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maadmike
Jul. 6th, 2015 05:25 pm (UTC)
"What do you think? Should interpreters be provided in Courts? If someone doesn't understand Russian are they out of luck? Or, will the Courts try to provide translation assistance? "

Certainly should!

"How does it work in Russia?"

Pretty the same I guess!

"And the main question - can a country without an official language ever be truly unified?"

Russia is unified by the education and culture. There is no problem to have so many languages on our territory, but to speak Russian is much more better for earning money because all the money is in the big cities and every big company is using Russian language as well. But it is possible to be Russian and not to speak Russian at all...
onkel_hans
Jul. 6th, 2015 05:35 pm (UTC)
Russia is unified chained together by KGB.
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noddeat
Jul. 6th, 2015 05:30 pm (UTC)
In Germany you only have a right to interpreter if you'are crime suspect. If you are crime victim, you have to bring your own interpreter to the police station :(
English proficiency of police officers vary from zero to very good, you never know.

Authorities and private businesses sometimes will happy to speak to you in English, but all written communication should be in German as it's official language. This is a problem for many immigrants but also motivates to learn the language.

Surprisingly, almost everyone who doesn't speak German in Germany speaks perfect English instead.
peacetraveler22
Jul. 6th, 2015 06:30 pm (UTC)
Really? It's interesting that an interpreter is provided only in criminal situations. I've been in Germany a few times, and always found English speakers very easily. However, I was mostly in big cities like Frankfurt, Munich and Nuremberg.
(no subject) - noddeat - Jul. 6th, 2015 06:33 pm (UTC) - Expand
onkel_hans
Jul. 6th, 2015 05:34 pm (UTC)
1) In Russia, there is no law. As law is defined in a civilized nation.

A few days ago a new "law" was presented to their "parliament" stating prevalence of the momzerim ("police" and KGB) over the presumption of innocence. These thugs will now have right to shoot in a crowd, sparing only the evidently pregnant women.

2) The English is not mandatory to study in Massachusetts. The legislators state otherwise will be discrimination against minorities.
ambival
Jul. 6th, 2015 06:25 pm (UTC)
1) In Russia, there is no law. As law is defined in a civilized nation

Wanna bet? As it is defined in a civilized nation
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pin_gwin
Jul. 6th, 2015 05:39 pm (UTC)
Citizenship interview is taken in English and it has English knowledge test as a part of it. It may be challenging for many people, and may be questioned from legal point of view now, however I think that any state must have one or more official language just to operate. In court, the interpreter is essential as step to provide protection to suspects or help for witnesses to extract the facts. As I know, interpretation is also provided in Russia, meanwhile, some criminals are requesting interpretation just to slow down the process or undermine the preliminary investigation.
peacetraveler22
Jul. 6th, 2015 06:33 pm (UTC)
Interpreters in U.S. Courts are always on standby, so it rarely slows down the judicial process. Perhaps if someone speaks a remote language, it's a problem but I think it's rare. Btw, what happens if you fail that citizenship test the first time? How long do you have to wait to retake it? Just curious. :)
(no subject) - pin_gwin - Jul. 6th, 2015 07:00 pm (UTC) - Expand
juan_gandhi
Jul. 6th, 2015 05:47 pm (UTC)
There is this joke/story about a Diné woman asked to speak English or go back to her country, and she suggested the English speakers to go back to England, etc.

I did not know California legalized English as the main language. In about 1998 schools in California switched to teaching in English only; as a result, Hispanic kids use English between themselves (which is not good), but on the other hand, Hispanic kids have the same opportunity regarding colleges and universities as all other English-speaking kids.

So,
- interpreters in courts is good
- in Russia, there are supposed to be interpreters
- regarding being unified - is it really always a good thing, as opposed to diversity?

And who is ever going to learn, say, Diné? At least some basic words...
peacetraveler22
Jul. 6th, 2015 06:35 pm (UTC)
Well, you know I support diversity so the language issue isn't such a big deal to me. In many parts of Virginia, kids enter school speaking absolutely no English (only Spanish). They are taken aside, and given special attention. This happened to a young girl in my parent's neighborhood. After only a month, she was speaking English quite well. So, most young children have a remarkable capacity to learn foreign languages quickly.
dksd
Jul. 6th, 2015 05:47 pm (UTC)
In Russia interpreters should be provided by law. However in practice there can be problems with that.
With public service job we have an interesting case. The other day there were no requirements of any kind, but starting December 2012 this sphere is regulated by law. Any migrant how wants to work in the field of community service or in retail has to pass three exams: Russian language, History of Russia, and Russian law system. You can find examples here http://snob.ru/selected/entry/68435
peacetraveler22
Jul. 6th, 2015 06:35 pm (UTC)
Interesting, thanks! What problems currently exist? Is there a lack of translators?
(no subject) - onkel_hans - Jul. 6th, 2015 09:44 pm (UTC) - Expand
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