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
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.