…and Other American Linguistic Oddities
“Those who seek stability in English seldom find it; those who wish for uniformity become laughingstocks.” — Richard W. Bailey
Language as a Natural Resource
From the history of the English language here in the United States, one thing becomes clear: English is not the only language spoken here. Nor has English ever been the only language spoken in the United States. Some countries are linguistically homogeneous: Denmark, Japan, Korea, and to some extent Sweden might be considered homogeneous, for example. A few people may speak another native language, but for the most part, the country (or region) all speaks the same language. What goes along with this is that they usually share a common culture and common heritage. In the United States, what we can learn from the history of the English Language is that, right or wrong, we are a culturally and linguistically diverse country.
Diversity Leads to Challenges but also Opportunity
That diversity can lead to challenges for us, but it also points to a distinct opportunity. For us, as a language translation company, one thing we want to promote is for children to retain their cultural and linguistic heritage. Certainly, learning English is important for people living and thriving in the United States. But, as bilinguals ourselves, one thing we know is that it is easier to add another language when you are young, rather than try to learn a new language when you are an adult.
And so, if we could send a message to schools and families (and the young people across the United States), it would be this: if you came to the United States already speaking a language other than English, keep that language! Learn the English language, of course, but keep your native language and realize that you, as a bilingual, are part of this country’s greatest strength: Countries with more bilingual speakers are at a huge advantage in the 21st century. We hope you’ll take this lesson seriously and retain your native language, whether this is supported by your current school or not. It is, we feel, imperative to the future success of our country. And you, as a potential bilingual learner, are a part of that.
And now, back to the history of the English language:
From the time of Ponce de Leon, Spanish has been spoken in what is now the United States. And, for that matter, since early times, German and French have also been spoken here. English, however, won out, and has become the de facto language of the country since the American Revolution.
And all of these colonial languages have fascinating dialects and histories within the United States.
The Quirky History of English Language in the US
The history of English language in the United States is fascinating. We can’t give you an entire history here today, but if you’re interested in learning more, Speaking American is a wonderful book that tries to give a history of English language in the United States, and what we have come to call American English.
Here are a few quirky facts about the history of English language here in the US:
- One thing we find incredibly interesting is the diversity of dialects within the United States. These dialects exist for Spanish and German speakers as well as English speakers, but we’ll focus on English for today. Did you know that there is an English dialect called “Chicano English“? Next time you hear someone speaking English with a Spanish-sounding accent, listen closer. They are probably speaking Chicano English.
- Are you aware of how very alive English is? Did you know that, back in the 1700’s in Massachusetts, you could go nuts with poor grammar, but God forbid you use hateful words like calling a person a “dog”.
- Since the 1940’s, the Chicago Tribune has been lobbying for midwestern-English to be considered “pure” English.
- Speaking of Chicago, back in 1910, it was the second largest Swedish-speaking city in the world, after Stockholm.
- You know that old story about German nearly becoming our national language? Yeah, it’s an urban legend. But German was so common in Pennsylvania back in the day that there was talk of German becoming the official language of that state.
- Did you know…that the idea of “Standard American English” is fluid? Unlike many countries, the United States doesn’t have an official department of language to help define what “proper” English looks like. Because of this, American English is as free as the country itself.
- The debate about whether or not we need one official language dates back to 1750. About half the countries in the world have one or more official languages.
We hope so. Language is our passion and we love sharing that passion with you. We began providing translation services because we truly enjoy helping people communicate effectively. Languages are like bridges that connect us to one another. The more bridges you’ve got, the more people you can connect to. We hope you’ll consider asking us the next time you need help with your translation needs. And we’d love to connect with you on social media. We’re active on Google+, LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter.