Saturday, March 22, 2014

Melting Pots, Salad Bowls and Official Language

    Even before the 1908 premiere of Israel Zangwill's play, The Melting Pot, our country has been described as one because of  the mixture of different nationalities, cultures and races. But 'melting pot' is not really an apt metaphor to describe the melange of people who populate this country.

    For instance, the heterogeneous ingredients including iron, carbon, nickel, chromium, titanium and others will, in a melting pot, fuse to become stainless steel - a homogeneous result. There is nothing homogeneous about the population of America.

    Amy Chua, a scholar from Yale University has suggested that the term, Salad Bowl, would be a much more accurate description since none of the ingredients in a salad lose their individual identity in a kind of peaceful coexistence.

    An 'Official' language is an excellent idea because a common language spoken fluently by every person is as the salad dressing binding this admixture of peoples. The question remains, "Which language should be the Official language?"

    There are some groups presenting bills before government assemblies to declare Spanish the official language. Why? Spanish as spoken by Puerto Ricans is not the same as Spanish spoken by Mexicans nor is it the same as that spoken by natives of Spain. Similarly, the French spoken by natives of Quebec is not the same as the French spoken by the natives of France. And some languages require gestures or altered inflections to achieve understanding.

    English on the other hand is such an accumulation of words with roots from a whole spectrum of other world cultures and languages that whatever message is to be conveyed can be done with such exacting precision that any nuances intended will be delivered by the right choice of words. English is infinitely flexible and though misunderstanding can occur, a more appropriate choice of 'right' words can eliminate any misunderstanding.

    Those who come to this country and encounter English as a second language should be welcome to retain their native language as part of their cultural identity. The diversity adds flavor to our salad bowl. Considering that English was the language spoken by the majority of those already populating the salad bowl, additional ingredients should not be allowed to overwhelm the basic character of the salad.

    Not to adopt English because of any "I was here first so I make the rules" attitude. If that were the case, our primary language might be Nordic after Leif Ericson's (son of Eric the Red) landing in far north America 500 hundred or so years before the Mayflower pilgrims arrived or perhaps the Wampanoag language which greeted the pilgrims. The sheer weight of years of the accepted use of English commends its use.

    It's the long arm of a lever which exerts its force on the short end not the other way around.
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