Thursday, July 27, 2006

Official languages.

Continuing their winning streak of focussing on issues that don't actually matter, the US House is considering legislation to make English the official language of the US. It does make a certain amount of sense; but, these "official language" laws tend to become ossified. For example, I'm often surprised that English and French are the only two official languages of Canada. Why not, say, Punjabi? Or Hindi? Or one of the Chinese dialects? After all, thousands of people across the country speak it. Are we saying that English and French are just better than these other languages? So, on the whole, I think that lawmakers who are opposed to this bill should be pushing for a clause which states that the official languages of the nation wouldn't be set in stone by legislation, but indexed to census data. When more than a certain proportion -- or absolute number, or distribution of a proportion -- of the population speak a language, then it has conferred upon it the status of being an official language. The idea, surely, is to provide governmental services in languages that are of broadest benefit to the citizenry; and allowing for demographic changes in a law would be a particularly effective method of ensuring that this goal is served.

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