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- 09-09-2006, 02:52 AM #1
South Carolina language law sends clear signal
http://www.islandpacket.com/news/local/ ... 4690c.html
Language law sends clear signal
20-year-old edict makes English official tongue
BY TIM DONNELLY, The Island Packet
Published Saturday, September 9, 2006
Stuck in what is likely a very uncomfortable position between the official state spider (the Carolina wolf spider) and the fumes of the official state tobacco museum (that's the South Carolina Tobacco Museum in Mullins) sits the English language.
Or, at least, a 20-year-old provision that makes English the official language of South Carolina, a supreme title the language has yet to earn on the national level.
It's a symbolic designation, with no legal requirements or penalties attached to it to punish non-English speakers, no more than a resident can be fined for improperly performing a square dance (the official American folk dance) or for trampling a lettered olive (South Carolina's official shell).
But what it does represent -- lawmakers and a political expert say -- is a desire to send a clear message to foreigners coming into the state: We speak English in the Palmetto State, and you should too if you want to get along.
Though English became the state's official language in 1987, the issue echoes in a debate that has emerged on Hilton Head Island in recent weeks over a new salary incentive the town soon will offer to employees who learn to speak Spanish.
The main impetus for the $1,200 annual salary bonus, town officials say, is to help handle the area's growing Hispanic population, especially for emergency crews who need to be able to communicate quickly with people in distress. But employees in other town offices, such as building permits, could take advantage of the incentive.
The program, which won't go into effect until late fall or early winter, agitated a hornet's nest of criticism from many residents, some who extrapolated the idea so far as to suggest the town is catering to an illegal-immigrant population instead of facing the problem head on.
"Learning to speak English is no more difficult for Hispanics than it is for people who speak Polish, German, French, Italian, Arabic or any of the many Asian languages. But you have to immerse yourself in society in order to do so," island resident Fabia Kendall told Town Council on Tuesday, reading from a prepared statement.
"Your incentive plan treats this issue with little or no respect for the obligations that come with legal immigration, and completely sidesteps the issue of illegal immigration. It is just plain wrong and an insult to all of those who came to this country legally and properly to improve their way of life."
Kendall, who said she didn't know a word of English when her family immigrated to the country from Italy, was grateful her family was forced to learn the language quickly in order to survive. It only took about six months for her to speak and understand English, she said. During that time, her parents did not encounter -- and did not expect to encounter -- any government employees who offered to speak Italian.
When Kendall finished her comments Tuesday, the Town Hall audience burst into applause.
Though the General Assembly approved the official-language bill almost two decades before today's immigration-reform debate, lawmakers at the time were dealing with many of the same concerns, particularly the push for making English the national language in order to unify the country, said U.S. Rep. Joe Wilson, R-S.C., who, as a state senator, co-sponsored the bill.
"This was also a time where there was a push by some to promote new immigrants not to learn English, that it was considered possibly as being some level of cultural dictate," Wilson said in a phone interview from his office in Washington. "When in fact it's my view that, particularly for persons fully to assimilate in America, you need to speak English. For young people to be successful in business and life generally, you need to speak the language of the country that you live in."
These kinds of "official" designations typically serve to boost particular attributes of a state, such as a crop it's proud of or a unique native animal, said Blease Graham, a political-science professor at the University of South Carolina and specialist on South Carolina politics who has co-authored a book on the state government.
But having one recognized language can help serve as a sort of standard currency in the marketplace, he said.
"Part of the idea of a common language goes along with the melting-pot idea," Graham said. "While the home language is a part of the home culture, there needs to be more of a common language for economic activity."
The push for a designation of English as the national language still is alive. Wilson is co-sponsoring
two bills that would declare English the official language of the government and create a uniform-language rule for naturalization.
The spirit of those bills is the same as the South Carolina law, Wilson said.
"It's unifying but it's also promoting the assimilation of immigrants," he said. "It's particularly helpful to young people to achieve to their highest ability to learn English. If you segregate yourself into a language that is not of the country, then you will have higher unemployment."
The difference with Hilton Head's program, town officials contend, is pragmatism. If the town stuck to an English-only policy on principle, it could end up in situations where finding an interpreter would be too time-consuming, such as code-enforcement officers needing to tell someone they were cutting down a tree improperly, officials said.
More important, emergency crews don't refuse treatment to people even if they don't speak the same language, and state law requires the municipal court to provide translators.
"I don't think you can stick your head in the sand (and say), 'We're not going to give you service if you're here dying of a heart attack and you can't explain to us what your symptoms are,'<2009>" Mayor Tom Peeples said.
The town's program will be modeled on a similar one the Beaufort County Sheriff's Office has used for the past five years to encourage more employees to learn Spanish. The office tries to recruit more Spanish-speakers at college job fairs, said Capt. Toby McSwain, head of theiff's southern enforcement division. But more bilingual employees are always needed.
"We're not where we need to be at," McSwain said last month.
Graham, the political-science professor, said municipal governments often are forced into short-term solutions when dealing with a growing population that speaks a different language, particularly in law enforcement situations. A similar effort to encourage law enforcement officers to learn other languages is getting under way in Columbia, he said.
Peeples said he agrees with many of the critics in believing that -- outside of emergency workers -- tax dollars should not be used to cater to non-English-speaking residents. But the incentive program is a town-employee issue, and Peeples said Town Council is not in the business of micromanaging the operations of Town Hall.
"If it was up to me, I wouldn't do that," he said. "English needs to stay the language of this country."
The town's salary-bonus idea grew out of the council's goal this year to increase communication with the Hispanic community. But all sides agree that the issue of how to handle the needs of the growing Hispanic population isn't one the town can hide inside a shell to avoid.
That's something more appropriate for the loggerhead turtle -- the official state reptile.
Contact Tim Donnelly at 706-8145 or email@example.com. To comment on this story, please go to islandpacket.com.Need Law Enforcement Information? Click here for the Alipac Action Panel
- 09-09-2006, 10:17 AM #2
Thank heavens they passed this years ago or the ACLU would be screaming about it.Equal rights for all, special privileges for none. Thomas Jefferson
- 09-09-2006, 10:43 AM #3
English is the official language here and should remain that way. Why do people want to cater to those who do not want to learn the language. When those people who do not speak English learn the consequences of their actions they will be forced to learn. My parents were immigrants escaping the former Soviet Union. When they escaped to Germany, they learned how to speak German and then when they came here they learned English. If they could learn 2 languages is less than 5 years than others can learn one. There is no excuse!
If cities caterer to their language then they are asking to trouble. They will have the same problem Canada has with French. To get the good government jobs you had to be fluent in English and French according to job ads. When it came to hiring it was always those who were of French Canadian background that got those positions. The same thing would happen here with Spanish and they would get the good jobs and other Americans would get screwed. Why do you think they want biligualism so badly? We do not need to shoot ourselves in the foot!
- 09-09-2006, 11:31 AM #4
I think legal immigrants assimilate, because being an American MEANS something to them! Unlike ILLEGAL immigrants that just want to USE AND ABUSE the USA FOR MONEY TO SEND BACK HOME!!!
My mother n law spoke only German when she came here legally. She taught HERSELF English and ONLY English to her 5 children.
The wanted to become Americans. Illegal Aliens are looking to DIVIDE AND CONQUER! They have no interest in becoming American in my opinion.
Deport all ILLEGALl ALIEN law breakers! :evil: [/b]