(submitted in response to Dick Feagler's August 28, 2005 Plain Dealer column, "In America, as in Norton, speak English")


August 28, 2005


Dear Editor,


I was very disappointed to read Dick Feagler's column "In America, as in Norton, speak English" supporting the Norton City Council resolution making English the city's "official" language.


There is the mistaken impression that there are more Americans now who do not speak English than in the past.  However, the 2000 census merely reports that 82% speak English only.  That does not mean that the remaining 18% speak no English.  It is quite possible that these people speak another language in addition to English.  Indeed, for the first time the 2000 census asked how well speakers of other languages spoke English.  77% answered "very well" or "well."  Only 17% responded "not well" and a mere 7% responded "not at all."  Even if we mistakenly assumed that 18% of Americans do not speak English, that would be a slight increase over the 1990 and 1970 percentages (14% and 17%) and a decrease from 21% in 1776.


It is quite obvious that English is our NATIONAL language since it is spoken at least "well" by 96% of the population and only 1% do not speak it at all.  What, then, would be the purpose of passing laws to make it the OFFICIAL language?  At best, it would have the same empty symbolic value as legislating that the barbecue cookout be the official Fourth of July celebration.  How would one enforce such a law?  What would legally qualify as English?  Would Cleveland, Cincinnati, and Columbus "dialects" be legal?  What about Boston, Nashville, or Atlanta?  Or London, Abuja (Nigeria) or Mumbay (India)? If someone asks for their groceries in a "sack" instead of a "bag" or orders a "soda" or "tonic" instead of a "pop," will they be fined or imprisoned?


What if a French, German, Japanese, or Brazilian executive were visiting Norton and considering investing in or starting a business there?  Would welcoming this person in his or her native tongue now be illegal?  Does this best serve our state's attempts to promote international trade in an increasingly global economy?


The First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution provides that "Congress shall make no law ... abridging the freedom of speech."  That would include the choice to express oneself and speak in the language of one's choice.


In a similar discussion on your recent "Feagler & Friends" program, you argued that we Americans don't go to other countries and expect the locals to speak to us in English.  But unfortunately, we do.  Very few Americans bother to learn other languages.  Even worse, most Americans see nothing wrong with the following statement attributed to Texas governor Miriam "Ma" Ferguson in the 1920s when arguing against laws requiring high school students to study a foreign language before graduating:


"If the King's English was good enough for Jesus Christ, it's good enough for the children of Texas!"


Milton Alan Turner