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Point/Counterpoint

Marta Neilson: Real problem is arrogance

Nathan Tabor leaps several canyons of logic.

First, he assumes there is a vast "politically correct theory" in favor of a multilingual society where no one language dominates.

Hogwash, as we say in English.

A few people might be dingy enough to endorse that concept. The vast majority of reasonable people, however, realize the efficacy of having a single dominant language.

In America, that will always be English.

Offering ATM instructions in Spanish will never change that.

Tabor also assumes providing people basic information in their own languages discourages them from learning English. He ought to drop in on an ESL class.

They are usually crowded to overflowing with people eager to learn English. The reason is obvious. English is -- and always will be -- the dominant language of the United States.

Not knowing English makes day-to-day life extremely difficult. Language minority groups will not be able to take full part in American life unless the learning English?

To quote one of our more sophisticated American expressions, duh! Guess what. People in language minority groups have already figured that out for themselves.

The simplest tasks become formidable obstacles if you don't speak English.

Who is really more inconvenienced? The immigrant who must struggle with a new language just to go the grocery store? Or the English-speaking American who occasionally -- occasionally -- must encounter a different language alongside English on a restroom door?

Elementary school children in most other advanced nations learn a second, or even a third, language as a matter of course. American students can make it all the way through college without encountering a foreign language.

Yet many conservative Americans are offended even by the sight of another language in a public place. Suddenly, they feel the need to pass national legislation.

It is not really about language. It is about bigotry and intolerance -- the "how dare they be different" attitude that runs like a cancer through American history.

Tabor recalls how the immigrants of the late 19th and early 20th centuries "had to change and adapt to the new common culture."

Indeed they did. Many of them -- just like immigrants today -- were treated brutally for not doing it fast enough. Then as now Americans clammored for tighter controls on immigration and the suppression of foreign languages.

Hitler admired anti-immigrant forces in the United States for barring the "undesirables" of Eastern Europe.

Americans historically assume that immigrants arrive intent on eroding social unity by clinging to their own languages and customs.

But this is just window dressing for a more insidious assumption that immigrants are basically leeches and parasites. They are out to get something for nothing. They want to mooch off the rest of us.

Just listen to the howls when someone suggests the children of mundocumented migrant workers deserve medical care when they are sick.

This is not an attempt to preserve English as the official language. This is thinly -- very thinly -- veiled racism. The people who purvey this garbage don't even bother to change their rhetoric.

The same flacid arguments have been circulating since the founding of the republic.

It depends on who happens to be the cheap labor source of the moment -- be they African, Chinese, Irish, Polish and on and on.

Yes, the English language stands in peril. It stands in peril from a population who would rather watch "Fear Factor" than pick up a newspaper. It stands in peril from a public increasingly hostile toward learning and critical thinking.

Most immigrants are doing what they can to better themselves. That means learning the dominant language.

Tabor trots out the usual suspects for society's ills -- liberals, immigrants and the ACLU (those evil people out to protect * gasp * civil liberties).

He also points to the phantom menace of political correctness. It will be a long time before political correctness overtakes intolerance and discrimination as a genuine social problem.

Watch out for people who point too many fingers.

The problem is not with immigrants. The problem is with our own arrogance.

(Nellie Marshall is a liberal activist based in Oregon. She has an associate's degree in welding.)

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