. . . One Nation Into Babel, With Liberty and Justice for All

Of late we are seeing more home-grown American terrorists.  Fortunately, they have been pretty stupid so far, flying to Ethiopia and Afghanistan trying to get training on how to blow the rest of us up.  Apparently they didn’t know you have to sign up for classes ahead of time.


Thus arises the question, other than living in the same country under the same laws, what do United States citizens have in common?  It seems to me it is less and less all the time, and that includes language.

According to U.S. ENGLISH, which cites the U.S. Census as source,

“Since 1980, the number of U.S. residents who are limited in English proficiency has more than doubled, from 10.2 million to 21.3 million. In 1980, fewer than 1-in-20 Americans struggled with English. Now, nearly 1-in-12 do.”

There are 322 languages spoken at home in the United States. Behind English, the most

Ellis Island, Sunset

Sunset, Ellis Island, by rickz via Flickr

common languages are Spanish, French, Chinese, German, Tagalog, Vietnamese, Italian, Korean and Russian. (Source: Census 2000)

In 2000, 11.9 million U.S. residents lived in linguistically isolated households, meaning that no one in the household  spoke English at home or spoke English “very well”. This figure is up 54 percent from 7.7 million in 1990. In all, more than 1-in-25 households in the United States is linguistically isolated. (Source: Census 2000)

There are numerous reasons why we should all try to speak the same language in this country, and to counter terrorism is actually a minor one.  Language is key to culture, which is another way of saying national identity.  Upset that Washington can’t seem to cooperate, Ms. Tea-bagger? One reason might be that some pols’ constituents don’t see much in common with other pols constituents.  It’s extra hard to resolve differences if you don’t speak a common language.

Want to leverage people into more productivity and less poverty?  Language is a way to do that.  The U.S. Department of Education found that those with limited English proficiency are less likely to be employed, less likely to be employed continuously, tend to work in the least desirable sectors and earn less than those who speak English. Annual earnings by non-English proficient adults were approximately half of that for the total population surveyed. (Source: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics; English Literacy and Language Minorities in the United States, August 2001)

Are the English, those Royalist chaps across the pond, actually ahead of America in coming to grips with this?  They may be.  Consider this from USA Today, 6/10/10, p. 8A:

Britain plans language requirement

Starting this fall, spouses of British citizens who are coming

English class

English class, by Alicia Nijdam via Flickr

from outside the European Union and want to live in Britain will have to prove their basic command of English.

“The new English requirement for spouses will help promote integration … and protect public services,” Home Secretary Theresa May said. Couples already have to meet other criteria, such as proving their marriage is genuine. Language tests are required for skilled workers and people applying for permanent residency or citizenship.

The effort to make English our official (federal) language has been going on for a long time, and may be at a tipping point in Congress now.  Doing so, contrary to what you might think, would not discriminate against anyone’s ethnicity.  The organization, U.S. English has an excellent web site HERE and has FAQ’s for any question I can think of.

This common-sense idea is long overdue.

About Jim Wheeler

U. S. Naval Academy, BS, Engineering, 1959; Naval line officer and submariner, 1959 -1981, Commander, USN; The George Washington U., MSA, Management Eng.; Aerospace Engineer, 1981-1999; Resident Gadfly, 1999 - present. Political affiliation: Democratic.
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2 Responses to . . . One Nation Into Babel, With Liberty and Justice for All

  1. FENG says:

    Europe has the same problem where Muslims make up majority of the immigrants. It’s gonna reach 10% of the population in a few decades, if I remember correctly. Immigrants’ birth rate is high, you can’t do anything about that.


    • Jim Wheeler says:


      I agree, it’s a world-wide tower of Babel. Yesterday’s USA Today made your point too – the fastest growing part of the US is hispanics, whose birth rate is many times that of whites. They predict that whites are very near becoming under 50% of the population. (Does that make them a minority?)

      I personally believe it is basic human nature to balkanize into sub-cultures. See my post of 4/10/10 on “Tribes and Crazy People”.

      If there is any hope for a universal language, I think English is it. In a sense, it is. When I was in the Navy I visited many European and Asian ports and found English being managed everywhere we went. Religion accentuates differences. Maybe a common language can moderate them. Let’s hope.



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