Declaring English as the official language of the United States is an idea that quite dangerous and culturally insensitive and many issues exist with the creation of an official language that one might not always foresee when making such an argument. One of the most salient aspects of the identity of any national or ethnic group is the language that it uses to communicate among its members (Ricento & Burnaby 1).
Languages, both oral and written, is the currency of communication within a culture, and the inability of group members to communicate with one another using a shared stock of words and a common acknowledgment of their meanings is likely to inhibit the cohesion, and even the long-term survival of the group. Declaring and institutionalizing the official language of a group or a nation, however, is fraught with political, social, and economic dilemmas, and “is among the most taxing of political issues” (Ricento & Burnaby 1). While the question is often posed in the argument, “should English be the official language of the United States” by many groups, it is more complicated than it may seem to declare an official language for many unexpected reasons.
For at least two decades, people in the United States have been divided over the issue of whether English should be declared the official language of this country (Macmillan & Tatalovich 239) especially given the country’s incredibly diverse population and all of the languages that are present. There are clear advantages and disadvantages of each position in the argument over whether or not English should be decaled the official language of the United States of America, of course, but with all things considered, even in a pluralistic and democratic society of immigrants—and perhaps especiallyin such a “classic immigrant society” (Ricento & Burnaby 1)—in which the diversity of languages is historically considered a strength, the identification of an official language can actually strengthen diversity, not dilute it, if in any sense, along the lines of nationalism. Furthermore, the argument in favor of English as an official language does not, nor should it, preclude the continued existence and use of the numerous other languages spoken in the United States. In other words, rather than saying that it does not recognize the possibility of the existence of other language, it simply sets forth one standard as the optimal.
Many countries of the world have an official language in which the official business and the day-to-day relationships among people are conducted and this “official” language is just that—it is the language of official business and formal interaction. The United States does not, at present, have an official language, English or otherwise, despite the heated argument and although approximately twenty states have their own statutes that declare English as the official language of the state (Macmillan & Tatalovich 239). The main historical reason that is given to explain the absence of an official language policy articulated at the federal level is that the United States is a nation of immigrants, a group of people from disparate backgrounds, cultural experiences, and linguistic abilities and preferences. In other words, the federal mandates indicate that since we would not be what or who we are as a country without the influx of multiple languages and cultures and thus to attempt to regulate it now would be counter-intuitive to our national memory. Still, despite the rich variety of languages and dialects spoken by Americans from different heritages, it has widely been considered that English is the common, if unofficial, language shared in most daily interactions from formal transactions to general casual speech in most public places.
Despite this aspect of the question, “should English be the official language of the United States” that has been posed quite often, especially recently, the increasing number of Hispanic immigrants arriving in the United States, in particular, has increased the presence and penetration of Spanish and other languages in daily conversation, and even in official documents and advertising. As a result of these complex dynamics, the debate about whether English should be declared the official language of the United States has attracted a large number of passionate supporters, each side with its own groups of ardent advocates and activists. With so many mixed messages (the need to integrate Spanish speakers, for instance, versus the need to preserve a language that it is the most common).
One of the groups that advocates the United States adopting English as its official language is the citizens’ action group, U.S. English, which describes itself as the “oldest, largest” organization “dedicated to preserving the unifying role of the English language in the United States” (U.S. English Inc. para. 1). U.S. English, which is comprised of a surprising number of immigrants who themselves speak other languages in addition to English, indicates that while more than 320 languages are spoken in the United States, the country has always “revolved around one central language — English” (U.S. English para. 2). The organization explains that avoiding the declaration of an official language creates conceptual, pragmatic, and logistical problems, preventing clarity and consistency from characterizing all official interactions between citizens and their society and government. While U.S. English does not call for the banishment of other languages, it advocates an official English policy, claiming that such a policy will facilitate a clear set of agreed-upon standards and procedures for communicating with one another effectively.