Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Pennsyvania's English idiocy

as Sharon pointed out before, Pennsylvania isn't much different than New Jersey when it comes to English Only bullshit. So, in the interest of fair balance, here is the PA bill.
Pennsylvania House Bill 1958 P.N. 2716:

Providing for the English language as the official language of the Commonwealth.

It is the purpose of this act to preserve, protect and strengthen the unifying role of English as the official language of this Commonwealth.

This act, which doesn't seem to be going anywhere, would make it illegal for the government or any government official to use a language other than English, to prefer another language, or to diminish or ignore the unifying role of English.
English is hereby recognized as the official language of the Commonwealth and shall also be designated as the language of official acts of government.

The Commonwealth shall make no policies expressing a preference for any language other than English or diminishing or ignoring the unifying role of English as designated in this act

In some ways it's pretty mild since it only really affects government. On the other hand, what the hell does it mean to diminish the unifying role of English? So if a congressman or mayor says that English really isn't that important, he or she could get fined? What does that accomplish?
The other scary thing is that there won't be an enforcement agency. Rather, citizens will be on the lookout for foreigners:
Any person who is a resident of or doing business in this Commonwealth shall have standing to sue any agency or official of the Commonwealth to seek a declaratory judgment as to whether this act has been violated and injunctive relief therefrom. A qualified person may file suit even if the Attorney General or other appropriate official of the Commonwealth has not filed such a suit, and the suit may be brought on behalf of all citizens of this Commonwealth.

The funny thing is all the exceptions:
The provisions of this act shall not apply to the following:
(1) When Federal law imposes contrary provisions.
(2) When the public safety, health or justice requires the use of other languages.
(3) Instruction in foreign language courses.
(4) Instruction designed to aid students with limited English proficiency in their transition and integration into the education system.
(5) The promotion of international commerce or tourism.
(6) To provide interpretation for hearing impaired individuals in American Sign Language.
(7) When using terms of art or phrases from languages other than English.
(8) For informal and nonbinding translations or communications among or between representatives of government and other persons if this activity does not affect or impair supervision, management, conduct or execution of official actions and if the representatives of government make clear that these translations or communications are unofficial and are not binding on the Commonwealth.

Thank god we can still use Latin phrases and celebrate Cinqo de Mayo!
And, of course, private citizens would still have the freedom of conscience to choose their primary language.
This act shall not be construed in any way to infringe on the rights of citizens to choose their own primary language, in the use of language for private conduct, nor shall this act be used to dictate language policies for the operation and administration of organizations or businesses in the unregulated private sector.

Another interesting thing is what's missing from the act. There is no provision for the Amish. Those nutty religious non-assimilators still speak German! Also, there is no definition of English. I suppose they go by the "I know it when I see it" precedent.

Of course, Pennsylvania has a long history of this sort of thing.
No less a figure than Benjamin Franklin circulated pamphlets expressing alarm that German settlers, now representing a third of the colony’s population, were failing to learn the language of their English neighbors. ‘Great disorders and inconveniences may one day arise among us,’ he warned, unless the Germans could be assimilated:
Those who come hither are generally of the most ignorant Stupid Sort of their own Nation, and as Ignorance is often attended with Credulity when Knavery would mislead it, and with Suspicion when Honesty would set it right; and as few of the English understand the German Language, and so cannot address them either from the Press or Pulpit, 'tis almost impossible to remove any prejudices they once entertain. (Franklin, [1753] 1961: IV, 483–484)

Public uses of German, he added, such as advertisements, newspapers, street signs, legal contracts, and court interpreters, only made the situation worse. Concerned that ‘few of their children in the Country learn English’ (IV, 484) – most were being educated in German – Franklin helped to establish a network of English-language schools under the guise of providing religious instruction. German parents were initially enthusiastic, but when the assimilationist purpose of these ‘charity schools’ was revealed, they refused to send their children (Bell, 1955).

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