Monday, February 3, 2014

UPDATE: The Typical American, English Language

Last night's Super Bowl commercial by Coca Cola featured various Americans singing America the Beautiful in different languages.  Strangely to me this commercial has triggered a backlash by the more xenophobic elements in American society.  Here's the commercial on YouTube and some statistics on the 1 in 5 Americans whose first language is not English.  America, c'est belle, no?

This backlash reminds me of a story floating around the web about two people waiting in line at the supermarket.  One person, a woman, is talking to a family member on the phone.  When she hangs up, the man behind her tells her that this is America and that if she wants to speak 'Mexican' she needs to go back to Mexico.  She looks him in the eye and informs him she was speaking Navajo and that if he wants to speak English he can go back to England. ;)

From its earliest days, the US has been a melting pot of languages from around the world.  The Founding Fathers almost voted to make German the language of government back in the 1700s!  In the 13 British colonies which became the original states, English was the most widespread language.

According to data from the 2012 American Community Survey, English still dominates with 4 out of 5 Americans speaking only English at home.  Yet, a sizeable number of Americans -1 in 5- do speak other languages at home.

Case in point:  A few years ago I looked into having a survey of Kentucky high school children translated into other languages.  When I checked, I found out that Kentucky schools -yes, Kentucky, not the most diverse state by any means- taught children whose primary languages included over 70 different languages! While English is the most common language in Kentucky schools and Spanish is the second most common, I was surprised that the third most common was Bosnian.  Kentucky has a rather sizeable Bosnian immigrant population who came to the area as war refugees.

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