Deseret News

Friday, January 15, 1999

Y. Professor Criticizes 'English Only'
By DENNIS ROMBOY, Deseret News Staff Writer

OREM Making English the state's official language flies in the face of Utah's heritage, a Brigham Young University linguistics professor says.
      Utah, said William Eggington, an expert in language planning and policy, was founded as a beacon of Christian charity.
      "Official English is a self-centered, uncharitable policy that sends the message we will accept you only when you become like us," he said. "What official English is also doing is rejecting Utah's unique heritage."
      Eggington said Utah shouldn't sign on to a law that "symbolizes narrow-minded monolingualism and, in the process, rejects our multicultural potential."
      The professor's remarks came during a "Celebration of Language" forum at Orem High School Thursday night. Utahns for Responsible Legislation sponsored the event to raise the level of debate over language policy in Utah.
      The Legislature will soon discuss Rep. Tammy Rowan's so-called "English-only" bill. The Orem Republican's proposal would make English the state's official language and would prohibit state agencies with some exceptions from conducting government business or printing information in any other language.
      Lawmakers also will consider an " English Plus" resolution sponsored by Sen. Pete Suazo, D-Salt Lake. The alternative to Rowan's measure encourages proficiency in other languages and maintains English is not threatened.
      Eggington, an Australian who moved to the United States 10 years ago, called official English a "top-down" policy. It's government deciding what it thinks is best for people, he said, adding such laws have little input from those most affected by them and don't work well.
      An English-only law would erect psychological and physical barriers to assimilation into society, he said. It breeds resentment and mistrust. "It creates a them-vs.-us situation or point of view among immigrants," he said.
      Chuck Foster, a Utah Valley State College anthropology professor and director of the school's Multicultural Center, said the bill might save a few tax dollars but it will destroy lives.
      "Language is part of culture. If you take away the language, you take away the culture. If you take away the culture, you take away the identity," said Foster, a Navajo Indian who was punished as a child for speaking his native tongue.
      Utah's eight American Indian tribes have come out against Rowan's bill. They support English Plus.
      English-only laws are an attempt to subjugate people who have different color skin or who speak differently, said Ernest Ramos, a case worker for the Department of Workforce Services.
      "I think the crux of the matter is fear. That person out there who doesn't look like me or talk like me is going to invade my comfort zone. The result is this kind of legislation," he said.
      One woman in the audience of about 20 expressed frustration that linguists like Eggington and other academicians haven't made themselves heard in the English-only debate. Their research into language issues would provide much needed insight, she said.
      "Lots of linguists have spoken to Tammy Rowan. She chooses to ignore them," said Eggington, who debated Rowan at Weber State University Thursday morning.