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August 27, 2010

Every English Speaker Is In The Minority

I love the English language for many reasons. One of my favorite characteristics of my native language is that it draws from every language - or even from sources that are not languages. The English language, especially the American version of English...

...absorbs, distorts, mangles or adopts words from every nation, culture, religion, industry or even every popular fad.

I always assumed that language united a culture, and therefore English speakers around the world would have common ground across many areas of life.

In the United States, recently, we have seen a culture attempting to redefine itself. Are we in the USA one culture? Or are we a bunch of disparate groups that have no need or interest in other groups?

Many other nations, particularly in Europe, grapple with the issues of what constitutes true citizenship. In the Untied States, we have a population history of well over 90% immigrants, so ALL of us are in the minority.

No individual ethnicity or religion is in a majority. I love that.

But just because literally every individual is in the minority, that does not mean that we deal well with our racial and religious minorities.

The current cultural discussion about the "Ground Zero Mosque" is only the latest example of how Americans are trying to define who is - and isn't a "real American".

It is a very strange discussion, one that emphasizes how little most Americans know about their own history and foundational documents.

Anyone studying to become a citizen of the USA must answer several questions on the history and constitution of the United States.

The loudest voices in this current debate seem to have forgotten the basics of constitutionally protected freedom of religion. They have also forgotten what it is that makes the United States, ahem, "united".

Consider this video from 1947, produced by the US military to show how "united" we must be and how destructive it is to listen to and follow the voices that call us to splinter off into our own little in-groups- http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=23X14HS4gLk.

As I said earlier, I love how the English language absorbs and welcomes words from every language, culture or way of life.

I am also most proud of my nation when we welcome those of every nation or religious tradition - as equals - to the rights and responsibilities of citizenship.

This conversation, like every conversation about identity, can get very messy - and sometimes ugly. But it is essential, and usually, but not always, the generous and welcoming side of America shows its face.

I can only hope that fear, suspicion and political manipulation will not prevail, and that most Americans will remember who we are, what we represent and what we, as a people, believe in.

Whatever else you may hear or read, there are many of us who welcome anyone, of any faith or culture, who has
good intentions.

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We are all always learning. And we, as well as the world around us, are always changing. And we never know what stray novel, song, film or short story might shed some light on a situation or make us wonder or be thankful for the life we have.

It is always more fun to learn together, so let me know what it is about English that you find confounding, infuriating or endlessly intriguing.

Listen, read and speak. Make your new language your own.

My best to you as you make your way through this intriguing , constantly shifting linguistic landscape.

Morf

About the author of this entry:

Morf has a B.A.from the Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington and an MAT (Master's in Teaching English) from the University of Washington (Seattle). (Both schools recently selected as the most "green" colleges in the United States.) Morf prefers international and independent films, foreign foods he can't pronounce, music no one else has heard of and riding his bicycle in foreign cities.

Posted by mmorf at August 27, 2010 12:01 AM

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