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English Isn't So Simple Essay

1138 words - 5 pages

Driving around town recently, it has been tempting to pass judgment on the intelligence of the drivers of cars with a bumper sticker that says something to the effect of 'speak American!' English, I'm tempted to say. Speak 'English.' Yet, as illustrated by Geoffrey Nunberg in 'The Persistence of English', what constitutes English isn't as simple as 'well….you speak English or you don't.' In fact, that ostensibly patriotic-as-Apple-pie attitude, as evidenced in the essay, can be traced back to America gaining it's independence. ''…when the United States first declared its independence from Britain, there was a strong sentiment for declaring that 'American,' too, should be recognized as a ...view middle of the document...

" p. 9, Nunberg.

If something as seemingly casual as the language in which you speak can have such dramatic and important consequences, surely there's a bit more to language than education. I think the words used in the essay to describe Ireland becoming English is important in understanding why having one's own language is important to having one's own autonomy. 'Forced,' in particular, implies that the reception of English was not by choice, and so makes resentment understandable, particularly in Ireland but also in places with thriving non-English languages that have been colonized or Christianized, cultures and languages being wiped out.

"…there are still many people in Ireland and many other parts of the English-speaking world who have mixed feelings about the English language: they may use and even love English, but they resent it, too." p. 14, Nunberg

Knowing what the cessation of Celtic language symbolized - loyalty to the English crown, it's not difficult to understand the resentment of the English language even now, in modern Ireland, where English rules and Celtic languages have been all but wiped out. It's important to remember that it's not just a language that gets wiped out- it's a culture and a livelihood as well. It’s interesting to see this attitude in America toward other languages taking residence. Not many people would argue that Spanish is quickly becoming dominant in America. The bumper sticker on the back of trucks saying 'speak American' probably wasn't referencing The United States gaining independence from England, but it was referencing a new threat- another language taking over.

However bigoted or misguided the opinions behind the bumper sticker (resentment of Hispanic people 'taking away' a white America, for example), it is incorrect to say that this is purely a case of Americans being ignorant and uneducated. A British person may come to America and hear normalcy and correct it- normality. They have the right idea- normality is an accepted definition of normal- in Britain. In America, however, it is more commonly defined as normalcy. This can be confusing, because it's easy to communicate ideas from Britain to England in books or movies. Yet there are some incredibly important difference.

“[Americans will be fascinated by]...a culture that...apparently speaks the same language but is divided by the Atlantic, and is divided by a thousand other cultural differences.” Jeremy Brock,...

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