Bilingual nuttiness

Posted: Feb 26, 2002 12:00 AM
On the one hand, nobody is forced to eavesdrop on a debate in Spanish between two contenders for the Texas governorship. But the trouble with hands is that they tend to come in pairs. The "other hand," in the present case, disturbs. An awful precedent is being set. Tony Sanchez, a banker, and Dan Morales, a former attorney general, seek the Democratic nomination for governor. Both men are of Hispanic origin, as are many Texans. Let's address 'em in their own language, goes the official rationale for this peculiarly distressing concept. Thus, on Wednesday, there will be a debate in English; then will follow a debate in Spanish. There is -- pssst, pssst -- whispering about the Machiavellian considerations supposedly on Sanchez' mind. Supposedly he regards his own Spanish as superior to Morales'. Why shouldn't he show it off? Here's one, I think, cogent reason: It is that the language of the State of Texas is the same (generally speaking!) as the language of the United States. This language we call English. Now, one thing has to be got straight at the outset. Nobody -- nobody -- can logically put the knock on Spanish, which is one of the great romantic languages, deriving from the tongue of Julius Caesar, namely Latin. One reason I read Spanish fairly well has to do with the hours I spent reading "De Bello Gallico" and such like under Miss Frances Broadstreet. Spanish, moreover, is one of the Western world's major tongues. As the world shrinks around us, a better acquaintance with foreign languages is eminently desirable for Americans. But that's not the point. The point is that the language of governance in the United States (like our public language in general) is English. That monopoly is not only sensible but vital to civic engagement and unity. Which is no doubt one reason such a monopoly offends the politically correct. Political correctness, one of the evils of our age, posits that the people who came to this country speaking English were just so many Indian-killing, tree-hewing, land-despoiling, Third World-oppressing varlets whose contributions to the development of freedom and prosperity may safely be ignored. (That most of these prissy accusers descend from English-speakers is, shall we say, a profound irony.) No such feverish claims, however, cancel the reality that our national language is English rather than Croat or Swahili or Japanese. Or Spanish. If language is a great unifying force, so can it divide greatly. People who live in proximity to each other but can't and don't understand each other's tongues are primed for strife. It makes no sense -- no sense that Jorge Washington or Tomas Jefferson would understand -- for the two non-amigos, Sanchez and Morales, to debate in Spanish. Our laws and regulations and judicial opinions are in English (although the tax code could be in runic or Babylonian, insofar as most of us understand it). All important political dialogue hereabouts takes place in English. Texas ballots, too, were once in English; then the politically correct added Spanish as a "civil rights" remedy. Sanchez and Morales invite Hispanics to opt out of the mainstream, to huddle apart from Anglos or gringos or whatever (who cares?) listening to Spanish radio, dreaming Spanish dreams, laying Spanish plans. Here is a prescription for turmoil. We don't have enough interest groups right now? We need more? Step right up, senores. No nation is likely to prosper or, for that matter, survive linguistic chaos of the sort Sanchez and Morales are, no doubt unconsciously, promoting. We need one language. One. And the more foreign people we take in, the more we need it. Already we hear of 100 or so languages in urban school districts. In the tongue of Texas, I make bold to say, that ol' dog won't hunt. But it will bite, with teeth filed to excessive and painful sharpness. The bilingual political nuttiness needs to stop before it gets much further down the road. If this is our first bilingual political debate, let us adorn it with another distinction -- the last.