Vail Daily column: ‘Official’ language for U.S.? | VailDaily.com

Vail Daily column: ‘Official’ language for U.S.?

Butch Mazzuca
Butch Mazzuca |

When the store manager at Wal-Mart announces, “Special de hoy: Comprar tres tomates y conseguir uno libre!” over its public address system, Wal-Mart is providing a service to a segment of its customer base. At the same time however, some find it irritating when a retail clerk at the same store is unable to assist due to the clerk’s limited English language skills.

“English only” is an ongoing debate — some feel strongly that English should be the official language of the United States; others feel differently and don’t mind being required to “press 1 for English.”

Meanwhile, research has demonstrated the United States is way out of step with most English-speaking nations because we are one of the few countries on earth that operate without an official language.

Many agree with former Colorado Gov. Dick Lamm, who once opined “that history has demonstrated repeatedly that no nation can survive the tension, conflict and antagonism of competing languages,” while others tend to disagree.

Regardless of one’s position on the matter, if it bothers you to press 1 for English, the best advice I can offer is to get used to it because no self-respecting CEO is going to turn away customers because of a language issue.

But there’s another aspect of the English-only debate that is seldom examined or discussed, to wit: It is the ability to use language (English in our case) that will determine an individual’s place on the social pyramid. Of equal or even greater importance, the ability or inability to use the English language will, to a significant degree, control the level of success an individual achieves during his or her lifetime.

Years ago, respected speaker, writer and author Earl Nightingale wrote a dissertation titled “The One Thing You Cannot Hide” addressing this matter. For those unfamiliar with Nightingale’s work, his expertise is in the fields of human character development, motivation, excellence and meaningful existence.

Nightingale illustrates how a person may dress in the latest fashion and present a very attractive appearance, but the minute he or she opens his or her mouth, they proclaim to the world their level on the social pyramid.

Studies have shown that more often than any other measurable characteristic, knowledge of the exact meaning of a large number or words accompanies outstanding success in these United States for the very obvious reason that understanding our language is the key to studying and learning everything else.

To quote Nightingale, “From the earliest of times, the favored class of people has always been the educated class. They can make themselves recognized instantly, anywhere, by the simple expedient of speaking a few words. Our language, more than anything else, determines the extent of our knowledge.”

With the above in mind, it’s the humanitarian aspect of this subject that piques my interest inasmuch as millions of Spanish-speaking people are being held back in life simply because they lack a command of the English language.

Making accommodations for immigrants is noble, but printing ballots and other official documents in Spanish may cause more harm than good. Many will tell us government is providing a necessary service to an expanding segment of society. However, one can also justifiably question whether the consequences of such policies are worth the so-called benefit.

It can be argued that printing official government documents in Spanish sends a not-so-subtle message that it’s OK for Spanish-speakers not to learn English and by extension, not to assimilate. But there are even more insidious ramifications to this matter.

English is the language of science, business and higher education in most places around the world, so while some dissemble and tell us we already have a national language (an official language and a national language are two entirely different things by the way), in reality by not advocating for an official language and making it “easier” for Spanish-speaking people to function in an English-speaking society, the dissemblers may actually be handicapping these immigrants and keeping them from a better life.

A command of the English language equates to knowledge. And knowledge is power in the digital age — power the individual can exercise over their lives and their future. This much is certain, almost without exception: An individual’s command of English will determine his or her place on the societal pyramid as well as their future income.

Quote of the day: “The limits of my language are the limits of my world.”

— Ludwig Wittgenstein

Butch Mazzuca, of Edwards, writes regularly for the Vail Daily. He can be reached at bmazz68@comcast.net.