Car-r-r-r-r-umba! A Spanish version of our beloved National Anthem! How dare they?
But, come to think of it, why would any non-Anglophone people want to adopt such a national "hymn" – much less translate it, nearly intact, into their own ancestral tongue?
Think about it: "Oh say can you see, By the dawn's early light, The rockets' red glare, The bombs bursting in air . . ."
Ask the Panamanians. Ask the Libyans. Ask the Serbs. Ask the Bosnians. Ask the Iraqis. Ask the Afghanis. Ask the Okinawans. They all have seen quite enough of the red glare of our rockets and far more of our bombs than anyone cares to count – all of them, thank you, supposedly for the sake of preserving and propagating our wonderful freedom. And let's not forget our superior virtue.
I spread out my hands all day long to a rebellious people who walk in a way that is not good…who say "Keep your distance; stay away, for I am holier than you." These are a smoke in My nostrils…
~ Isaiah 65:5
Well, I did say the U.S. national anthem was translated nearly intact. The Spanish version does keep the anthem essentially intact while marvelously managing to leave out the bombs and rockets:
Amanece, lo veis, a la luz de la aurora? It's sunrise – do you see it in the dawn's light? Lo que tanto aclamamos la noche al caer? What we acclaimed so much during the night? Sus estrellas, sus franjas flotaban ayer Its stars, its stripes floated above us yesterday En el fiero combate en señal de victoria… In the proud struggle, signaling to us victory…
Now shouldn't that still be enough to swell the chest of every faithful member of the American Legion or the Veterans of Foreign Wars? Why, it's downright tear-jerking – verdad, amigos?
As for the question of English as the official language of the USA, well, first of all, I tend to see this idea in much the same light as Professor Higgins did. "In America, they haven't spoken it in years." If you don't believe me, sign up for a movie channel with your cable or satellite TV service. Watch a few American movies (if you can stand it); then watch some foreign-language films with subtitles. Believe it or not, the actors in German, Italian, French, Spanish, Russian, Chinese, and Japanese movies manage to speak coherently – and without interjecting the equivalent of an u2018F' word into every other sentence. Not even the teenage actors. Not even the actors playing bad guys. Plenty of slang, yes. Plenty of off-color innuendoes, yes. But always coherent.
Why in the world are so many Americans having anxiety attacks about getting "taken over" by another language? Doesn't anybody know that the more languages a person is exposed to, the sharper his brain-activity becomes? With each bit of a new language one learns, more synapses (neural pathway connectors in the brain) are created. Multiple languages, in large and small territories alike, are an historical fact all over the planet. Canada gets along just fine with two languages. Belgium manages to hold together in spite of three linguistic groups – French, Flemish, and Walloon. Switzerland has stayed remarkably war-free and prosperous for centuries with a trilingual population speaking French, German, and Italian. India hasn't exploded yet, in spite of a plethora of different languages – Hindi Urdu, Bengali and countless derivative dialects, not to mention English. China churns along toward more freedom and a bigger gold reserve while continuing to make its way while speaking Mandarin and Pekinese and Mongolian and Tibetan and hundreds of rural dialects. The Philippines haven't fallen apart yet in spite of the interference Tagalog has suffered from Spanish, Japanese, and English.
Language everywhere changes and changes and gets all the richer as it does so. At least in the long run. Right now, in America, we are going through our Orwellian period. As Confucius wrote, "When words lose their meaning, the people lose their freedom." And indeed, thanks to an increasingly all-powerful central government, this is what has been happening here throughout a war-infested century. But freedom always resurfaces, stronger than before. America won't sink into the ocean any time soon. Neither will the English language.
Let's lighten up.
May 4, 2006
Joanna Parker (send her mail) is an escape from teaching in government schools and [left-]leaning Ivory Towers, successively.