Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Bad Pat

I like Pat Buchanan because he is mean and smart and a real-deal conservative. But I think he would be a terrible president and would never vote for him. Today on MSNBC, I got a reminder of why.

Buchanan was bloviating on this story, which pits the forces of good (English speakers) against the forces of evil (Spanish speakers) over what languages beach rules should be printed in. That this should be news even in Merrimack is remarkable, but it is astounding that it became national news.

It happened, of course, because guys like Buchanan are willing to go on national TV to express outrage that any language other than English should be heard between the unpatriotically named Rio Grande and the Great Lakes. Judging from the comments, many Merrimack readers, no matter how slipshod their own grasp of English, feel the same way.

As someone who has spent a fair chunk of time struggling with unfamiliar languages (German, French, Spanish, even a semester of Old English), I think I have learned a couple of things:

1. The purpose of language is to communicate, not to make political statements. So if your goal is to have people understand what the beach rules are, you should print the signs in a language they understand. If you have some other goal in mind, then maybe you need to think about why you have signs in the first place.

2. Yes, English is the language of success in America, but even the most diligent students of English are going to struggle for a few years. They deserve a break.

3. In German, the beach is masculine, the sign is neuter and the sea is feminine. Do I have to make you a sign?

P.S. The German equivalent of "That's Greek to me" is "Das kommt mir Spanisch vor," or "That's Spanish to me."


JTF said...


What is your problem with maintaining our cultural integrity? Why are you always promoting some kind of adulteration or debasement of our culture?

Jim Larson said...

Dear JTF,

What is cultural integrity?

English is heavily influenced by French. Should we excise all of the French words that have been assimilated into English? Montana is a Spanish word. Should we change the name of the state? I'm all for not wasting money on public signs written in foreign languages, but I don't see a big threat to our Anglo Saxon heritage. English is not only dominant in America, but globally.

During an episode of insomnia last week I was watching a documentary about Norwegian architects who were trying to land a big job in an Arab emirate. All of the Norwegians spoke excellent English as did all of the Arabs. If only it were spoken as well in my home town.

American values and our material culture are taking the world by storm. The mother tongue doesn't need your help. She's kicking the ass of all of the other world's languages on her own.

Anonymous said...

As far as speaking, i don't care what language is used. My grandparents spoke their native language in their home, and I wish I had learned more than English. But I would say that with English as our "national language" it is possible to do business anywhere in our country. Those in Maine can easily do business with those in Seattle--unlike some nations. For example, China has numerous dialects in the various regions. I understand that a contract between businesses from different nations would require an interpreter, etc. But I would hate to see that same need when we have two U.S businesses trying to buy and sell with each other.

David said...

JTF, Let me try to explain this one more time. I was born in South Texas. When I was a kid, I thought the three major food groups were tacos, tamales and enchiladas. In my junior high school, I was as likely to hear Spanish in the halls as English.

A French explorer, LaSalle, built a fort near where I grew up. My hometown was founded under a land grant from the Mexican government. Its original name was Nuestra Senora de Guadalupe de Jesus Victoria. At various times, the land on which I was born owed allegiance to France, Spain, Mexico, the Republic of Texas, the Confederate States of America and the United States. That's not even to mention the Indian tribes that lived here for thousands of years before all of that.

Names of nearby towns, rivers, counties and creeks are a mishmash of Spanish and Indian roots: Garcitas, Gonzalez, Guadalupe, Coleto, Cuero, Zavalla, Lavaca, Nueces -- the list goes on and on and on.

It's just laughable to think that a park sign in Spanish is going to adulterate my conception of what it means to be an American.

JTF said...


You have no conception of what it is to be an American, because to you an American can be anything. And you know damn well this is not about a beach sign.

I think you had a culturally deprived upbringing in Texas. But if that is what you like, you must feel awfully adrift up here in Montana. Why not consider moving back to Texas? I hear the place is even more overrun with Mexicans than when you left. Or, alternately, if you really enjoy third-world people and “cuisine” so much, why not just go straight to Mexico?

Anonymous said...

Definiions: a person who speaks three languages = trilingual; a person who speaks two languages = bilingual; a person who speaks one language = American. Sad but basically true. If we're concerned about our cultural integrity, then we would be studying and practicing the languages and cultures of our forefathers, not all who came from England. If yours did come from England and you're worried about cultural integrity, then you better be speaking the Queen's English -- smoke a fag, keep your spare tire in your boot, and don't get pissed and drive or you'll end up in gaol.

David said...

Am American CAN be anything. The only requirement is to be born here. No other rules apply. And the Mexican food up here is quite passable, thanks, and what I can't get I can make for myself.