Proclaims "Mother Language Week" in Oklahoma Governor Brad
Henry has declared the week of February 20-26 "Mother Language
Week" in Oklahoma. This date was chosen because February 21 was
designated as "International Mother Language Day" by UNESCO
(The United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization)
in 2000 and has been observed each year since then. That date this
year happened to fall on President's Day in the United States. That
is why the Coalition for Language Diversity, an Oklahoma group monitoring
language laws and policies and promoting the "English Plus"
philosophy that each citizen should be fluent in English and at least
one other language, suggests that schools and community organizations
might use the week to educate the public about the rich diversity
of languages in Oklahoma and the world.
Anderton, Co-Spokesperson for the Coalition, said that it is particularly
fitting that the Governor proclaim the first "Mother Language
Week" in Oklahoma in 2005, in light of the fact that the United
States Senate has declared 2005 the "Year of Languages."
to linguists there are about 6,000 languages spoken in the world.
The most widely-spoken languages in the world are usually listed as
Mandarin Chinese, English, Hindi/Urdu, Spanish, Russian, Arabic, Bengali,
Portuguese, Japanese, German, French, and Indonesian.
Oklahoma's most-spoken language, of course, is English. There are
also many speakers of Spanish, Vietnamese, American Sign Language
(technically "used" but not spoken, because this is a gestural
language used primarily by deaf people and their families), as well
as Cherokee (the most-spoken Native American language of Oklahoma,
with around 9,000 speakers). There are also smaller numbers of speakers
of many other languages; according to the Intertribal Wordpath Society
of Norman, this includes 24 other Native American languages in nine
Only Alert 2004
HB 1020, the "English Only" bill, is dead for another year.
Thanks for all your letters, emails, and phone calls.
Al Lindley has authored a concurrent resolution, HCR 1049, which is
an "English Plus" bill--i.e., says English is fine, but
so are all our other languages and cultures; we don't need English
Only. He needs a co-author on the Senate side before the bill can
proceed to committee. Since it is only a resolution, the usual deadlines
for bills does not apply. But if you could contact your Senators ASAP
and ask them to co-author and let Al Lindley know that they are willing,
then we can get on with it. -AA
1020 would make English the official language of Oklahoma, and generally
forbid the use of other languages by the government, either orally
or in publications. Some exceptions are made for Indian languages,
for federally mandated translations and for public safety.
against HB 1020
It is unnecessary. English is quite safe. Immigrants are
learning English at a faster rate than ever before.It is unconstitutional,
restricting the speech of government employees.
• It is based on the lie that it is the English language that
unites us as Americans.
• It is divisive, creating an "us" and a "them."
In many places where English Only has passed, it has created new ethnic
tensions or made existing tensions worse.
• It limits access to government services to only those with
good English language skills.
• It may actually discourage the learning or maintenance of
other languages and cause Oklahomans to become even more monolingual,
a handicap in dealings with the rest of the world.
• Many Indian leaders feel the exception for Indian languages
is merely an attempt to divide the opposition, and that such a law,
if passed, could too easily be amended later under the guise of "leveling
the playing field."
• It will inevitably lead to law suits which will be expensive
for the state to defend against.
• It makes no exception due to physical limitations, for the
use of American Sign Language.
• It is vaguely worded, e.g. in the phrase "absent compelling
circumstances." Presumably each state employee would be
charged with interpreting such phrases and memorizing the relevant
exceptions. In practice, this will probably mean a chilling
effect, beyond even the intended purpose of the bill.
• It creates a "mean and intolerant" image of Oklahoma.
of the organizations opposing HB 1020:
Party of Oklahoma
Intertribal Wordpath Society
League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC)
Oklahoma Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages (OKTESOL)
Society of Oklahoma Linguists
Task Force on the Education of Limited English
Proficient Students in Oklahoma
Alice Anderton and Ed Romo
Co-Spokespersons, Coalition for Language Diversity
of the Intertribal Wordpath Society
January 28, 2003
The Oklahoma English Language Act, authored by Rep. Ron Kirby and
known as HB 1020, is the latest in a series of "English Only"
laws to be proposed for Oklahoma. It praises English above other languages,
claiming that English is what unites Oklahomans; we find this not
to be true. It declares English to be the official state language
of Oklahoma; we find this unnecessary, since all Oklahomans are already
aware of the importance of English in public and commercial life.
It implies that making English the official language of the state
will help people get better jobs, housing, and insurance; we disagree.
It professes respect for Indian languages; yet by glorifying English
at the expense of the Native American languages and other minority
languages of Oklahoma, we feel that it insults these languages and
though the English Only movement has racist roots, we believe many
English Only supporters are non-racists who have been misled by EO
supporters into believing that such a law would have no effect, or
would be desirable, based on several erroneous beliefs. For example,
some Oklahomans are not aware of how many other languages are spoken
in the state, or of their importance to the ethnic identity of so
many of our citizens; so they do not understand the impact that such
a law will have, or what an insult it offers to hundreds of thousands
of their fellow Oklahomans. Some want to encourage everyone to raise
their children speaking English only, in the erroneous belief that
children who grow up speaking English plus another language will have
weaker English skills than those who grow up monolingual, and thus
be disadvantaged in life (many studies have shown the opposite--their
English skills will be stronger). Some believe that English is somehow
a better language than other languages. Some have an irrational fear
of bilingual education. Some believe that having an official language
unites the citizens of a country and lessens political and social
strife; yet in countless examples, the opposite has been true--minorities
who feel their language is being devalued or excluded become disaffected
from the majority. Some, worried that English may someday become a
minority language, are afraid to extol, or even tolerate, the diversity
that is such a natural and important feature of our state.
urge all Oklahomans to consider whether it is appropriate for the
state to make some Oklahomans feel more "official," or more
sanctioned, or more Oklahoman, in their language than others.
is a danger that this will be seen by some as one more instance of
a bullying majority culture trying to intimidate and assimilate minority
cultures, including Native American communities. In the nineteenth
century the assimilationist political and cultural philosophy of "killing
the Indian to save the man" became very entrenched in government
policy, which forbade the use of Indian languages in many boarding
schools, and attempted to limit the expression of Indian culture.
These attitudes improved somewhat in the twentieth century, until
revived by the English Only movement, which seems to be attempting
to hold the first class citizenship of all minorities hostage to conformity
with the majority. The effect on proposed bilingual education programs
and Indian language programs in the schools, while not entirely predictable,
cannot be good; yet these programs will be essential if heritage languages
are not to become extinct. One third of Oklahoma Indian languages
are already gone from the state, and all 24 of those remaining are
Proponents have said that such a measure is harmless because it is
mainly symbolic, making exceptions for many concerns that were raised
about previously proposed English Only laws; they say it is similar
to designating a state bird or flower. IWS finds the symbolism inappropriate
and offensive. The implication that official English can heal divisions
and ills is wrong; in fact, official language laws can create ethnic
divisions. HB 1020 is really majority culture enthusiasts boasting
that their language is better and more important than everyone else’s,
and trying to get that opinion enacted into a law for all Oklahomans.
or comments? Contact: Intertribal Wordpath Society, 1506 Barkley St.,
Norman, OK. (405)447.6103. firstname.lastname@example.org.