“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.” American Declaration of Independence, July 4, 1776.
Simple phrasing, eloquent ideas, and truly revolutionary for the 18th century. “Truth” from the West Saxon “Triewe.” “Endow” from the Anglo-French “Endover,” which in turn comes from Latin “Dotare,” to bestow. “Life” from Old English by way of Old Norse “lif.” “Liberty” from the Latin “Libertas,” free. “Happiness,” a 14th century addition to English. Without the Germanic invasions of England we might still be using “blithe” to describe happy feelings? The Saxons weren’t best pleased by the Viking invasions, but were “happy” enough to incorporate Lif into the English language as it comes to us. Subtract the additions of Norman/Anglo/French and we’d not be “endowed” by our creator. In short, the very language we speak ought to be a vivid reminder that exclusion and expansion are often mutually exclusive.
Carry this notion forward to the U.S. in the 21st century and observe how exclusionary some thinking has become, not that exclusionary thinking is a modern development — consult the shade of William the Conqueror who had significant problems subduing his new domain until 1072. When William did manage to take control the old English landlords were sent packing. Fast forward to 1362 and we find Edward III addressing the Parliament in English. Fast forward to June 12, 2013:
“Senator Marco Rubio said Tuesday he would submit an amendment to the comprehensive immigration reform bill under debate in the U.S. Senate that would require immigrants learn English before obtaining a greencard.” [HuffPo]
OK, so we’re speaking a foreign language when we say Nevada? Texas? Colorado? Arizona? Montana? New Mexico? The Senator’s home state of Florida? And, then there’s California…
Now, for our second test: Can you describe the proscription of mercantile transit into or out of a nation’s ports? Thinking of “embargo?” The word means the same thing in Spanish. [HuffPo] Forget the menu at Taco Bell… we’re speaking Spanish when we talk of attending a Rodeo, of a rough stock rider wearing “chaps” short for chaparajos , of living on a Ranch, or speak of a “buckaroo,” the Anglicized version of Vaquero.
Test three: When is a foreign language NOT a foreign language? Could it be when approximately 40 million people (exclusive of those in Puerto Rico) are speaking it? [ANLE]
The question we’re missing during the verbal jousting over English as an “official” language or a “required” language is that while the better primary schools in Mexico offer instruction in English (the quality is inconsistent in many areas) — why the number of schools in the U.S. which encourage bilingual instruction for English speakers is minimal.
So, while we’re celebrating our foray into nationhood it might do to remember how we received the words with which we announced it?