Definitely *not* loving language

Miranda Washinawatok Menominee

Ignorance of languages can exacerbate mistrust.  The United States’–and many other countries’–history demonstrates oppression of language as a natural part of suppressing culture.  This article demonstrates that indigenous languages continue to strike fear in the hearts of some non-indigenous Americans.  Immigrant languages can cause the same problem.  In the 90s I witnessed an altercation on a public bus between a working-class white guy who started yelling at a pair of working-class Latinos who were speaking Spanish.  The white guy appealed to the driver: “You never know if they’re talking about you!”

That the ones in power feel threatened strikes me.  Whites do not risk an “Indian uprising” or anything like that, and Latinos seem to adapt to white political structures.  Nevertheless, the expression of thoughts in ways that whites cannot understand is a threat on its own.  Perhaps an underlying mistrust is coming to the surface.

What do you think the solution is?  My solution is to teach Spanish in the schools, from the first grade, alongside another community language, depending on the location–Menominee, Hmong, whatever.  Creating a bi- or trilingual population will smooth over the mistrust.  Finns decided to require Swedish language education for all the population because of its Swedish minority and proximity to Sweden.  And the Finns’ educational system does well, as far as I know.  I think Americans are capable of learning more languages–our indigenous and immigrants demonstrate this.

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4 thoughts on “Definitely *not* loving language

  1. Alex L.

    At a recent open-mic night, I heard a participant read a poem about the “broken English” that immigrants speak. Even though the accent and fumbling for words makes the person sound timid and weak, the poet illustrated that this broken English is actually the language of hope and strength: almost everybody in this country can trace their descent back to those pioneering individuals in their family who spoke broken English.

    On the topic of teaching language in schools, what do you think should have priority: teaching a language that better equips students for professional employment (e.g. Chinese) or one that builds better understanding with near neighbors (Hmong)?

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  2. I love the idea of reading a poem in “broken” English. Poetry can really portray the struggle of learning the language and overcoming–to whatever degree–that communication barrier. In China they have poetry-reading contests for foreigners in Mandarin.

    I think that in your question there is an underlying issue. For one to be equipped with a language, one has to know it *well*. One can take lots of Chinese classes, but lack of interaction with Chinese people guarantees you’re wasting some time. For example, most of the language classes I took in high school and even college weren’t aimed at fluency, but some vague “competency.” If the language is spoken in the community, one has a better chance of learning the language well. So I would choose teaching to fluency rather than competency, first of all.

    If one has resources to be fluent in either, as per the same examples, Chinese or Hmong, I am biased towards local peace and understanding. I’m for educating people to become ethical people rather than wealthy people. So peace over wealth should take precedence. Moreover, if you can learn Hmong, learning Chinese will be that much easier, so one doesn’t exclude the other.

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  3. Pingback: Myth: Our ancestors happily learned English | Loving Language

  4. Pingback: The US is truly a Tower of Babel | Loving Language

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