Why English?

by Chantal K. Saucier by Chantal K. Saucier

As a member of a linguistic minority in the United States, it saddens me to say that most people in our ranks simply don't get it. Day after day, they spend countless energy in a tug-of-war with the government in order to receive services in their language, whether for education, immigration, health care, or what not. In most cases, it is not because they do not speak or understand English, but rather because they feel entitled to those services for one reason or another. Sometimes, the reasons are based on historical facts like the Mexican War in the case of California's Spanish-speakers, the Louisiana Purchase for the French-speakers of Louisiana and sometimes, the reasons seem to be coming out of thin air. Regardless, it is well known that most members of linguistic minorities in this country are Liberals and as such, they are constantly demanding more government services in all languages.

The other side, and rightly so, is arguing that it is not in the mandate of the government to provide services in languages other than English. Of course libertarians would argue that the government should not provide services in English either. Nevertheless, this constant arguing and bickering between the two sides is part of what we now call the "cultural war." I call it a total waste of energy!

This nation is multicultural and multilingual, and whether or not some are unhappy with this fact is beside the point. There is no need to fight. Members of linguistic minorities need to realize that, at any time, they can simply turn around and walk away. Turn to what? Turn to the market place, that's what. Why? Because in the market place, the language is money, not English. I mean, when is the last time you've heard a CEO say, "Gosh darn, can't you all people speak English and make our lives easier?"

I live in a French-speaking part of Louisiana and there are days when the only use I have for English is while surfing the Internet. And even there, my Google is set up en français (so is my Ipod), and I can always surf the French-speaking web. Locally, I receive services in French for just about all my needs, from groceries to gas, to services from lawyers and notaries. Whatever we do, my husband and I always make it a point to sponsor French-speaking businesses, simply because we appreciate being served in our mother tongue. None of these businessmen and women would ever think twice about telling us to address them in English; they know it would be bad for business and it doesn't cost them anything to speak to us in French.

And it's not only small businesses that see language as a way to attract customers and money. Most banks now offer ATM services in Spanish and are considering adding more languages, brokers offer services in numerous languages, and even our Lowe's Home Improvement in Lafayette has decided to translate its slogan ("Improving Home Improvement") and its phone recordings in order to attract and serve its French-speaking customers. Had I not already been a Lowe's customer, I would have become one right away just because of this. Lowe's has nevertheless made me a happier customer and that's good for their business.

The government, on the other hand, likes unhappy customers. Examples are everywhere and here's one about education. When polled about bilingual education in Lafayette over ten years ago, 30% of the population answered that, if given the opportunity, they would enroll their child in a French immersion program. The reasons given were ancestry and the benefits of bilingualism. Today, some 13 years later, about 3% of the student population has access to partial French immersion in the Lafayette public schools and every year, frustrated parents end up on waiting lists because the offer does not answer the demand. It never has. In addition, and also on a yearly basis, school board members threaten to shut down existing programs for lack of funding (what else?), thereby keeping the parents on the edge all the time, feeling as if it were a perpetual battle, which it truly is.

If there ever comes a time when French-speakers in Lafayette and Louisiana decide to say "pass" on the not-so-free government education system, I have no doubt that entrepreneurs will be there to build the schools that these people want for their children. Entrepreneurs like happy customers.