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Monday, September 07, 2015

Two countries divided by a common language

I think it was George Bernard Shaw who said that ‘England and America are two countries separated by the same language’ and the more I read about the US Presidential election the better I understand the sentiment.

Today's Guardian reveals that the former Republican vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin has added her voice to a controversy triggered by Donald Trump’s criticism of Republican rival Jeb Bush for speaking Spanish by saying that immigrants to the United States should “speak American".

Donald Trump, the Republican front-runner whose hardline stance on illegal immigration is a hallmark of his bid for the party’s nomination in the November 2016 election, said that Jeb Bush “spoke Mexican” adding: “We’re a nation that speaks English.”

Putting aside the niceties of what these languages are actually called, it seems that Republicans in the United States are taking the debate on immigration to depths that even Nigel Farage has so far not fathomed. I can remember a time when it was an advantage to speak more than one language. Is the lowest common denominator of American politics now turning multi-lingualism into an electoral liability?
As ever, on US matters, u miss the point. It is nice that people speak any number of languages. The issue is situations where only a foreign language is spoken. For example, where someone only speaks Russian and speaks it at home and their kids don't get exposed to English at home. I have relatives who speak fluent Welsh and English and that is good. Only speaking Welsh would be a problem because lots of others don't speak Welsh. Of course that rarely happens. I don't know anyone who speaks Welsh but can't speak English, but in the USA there are large communities where everything is in a foreign language. People who would like to go to those areas to shop who don't speak that language have problems buying simple things like pajamas. My mum had that problem, she had to describe what pajamas were. The staff only spoke fluent xyzee, and were unable to converse in English. I am learning Spanish because a lot of folks speak it and I want to be able to speak to them in Spanish, but it is important for them to learn English too. Unfortunately that is increasingly not happening in the USA and there are growing areas where only xyzee is spoken. That is not healthy, just creates a divide and isolation. We need people who speak English and yes, its great if they also speak Spanish, Russian, Polish, whatever additional language.
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