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America’s war on language

Posted: Wed Sep 24, 2014 8:56 pm
by Erik_Kowal
Writing on the Oxford Dictionaries blog site, Dennis Baron, Professor of English and Linguistics at the University of Illinois, has an eye-opening article about the systematic eradication since World War I of languages other than English in the United States. The first few paragraphs read as follows:

2014 marks the centennial of World War I, time to take a closer look at one of its offshoots, America’s little-known War on Language.

In April, 1917, the United States declared war on Germany. In addition to sending troops to fight in Europe, Americans waged war on the language of the enemy at home. German was the second most commonly-spoken language in America, and banning it seemed the way to stop German spies cold. Plus, immigrants had always been encouraged to switch from their mother tongue to English to signal their assimilation and their acceptance of American values. Now speaking English became a badge of patriotism as well, a way to prove that you were not a spy.

The war on language was fought on two fronts, one legal, the other, in the schools. Its impact was immediate and long-lasting. German was the target, but the other “foreign” tongues suffered collateral damage. Immigrant languages in America went into decline, and there was a precipitous drop in the study of foreign languages in US schools as well.

The article goes on to describe in detail how the repercussions of this nativist, isolationist sentiment continue to have a far-reaching impact to the present — not only in terms of the foreign-language competence of native-born Americans, but in encouraging a hostile attitude towards the relationship of foreign languages to the English language and American culture as a whole.

Re: America’s war on language

Posted: Thu Sep 25, 2014 7:25 am
by Wizard of Oz
.. what a great article .. one never realises the background things that went on as a result of war .. history lessons concentrate on the battles and fighting .. however I am not surprised at what is revealed ..

.. in these pages I have constantly spoken of the US's language neo-colonialism .. this is most evident in their domination of the WWW and through this medium their domination of spelling and grammar conforming to the Amlish pattern .. (for instance see how hard it it is to change the language to British English in software products) .. pay-TV programs foisted on Australians also contribute to the subtle widespread domination of Amlish speech patterns ..

.. I am speaking here of course of the internal subversion of the english language and not the banning of foreign languages .. this is just as insidious and so bloody annoying ..

WoZ who told you so

Re: America’s war on language

Posted: Fri Sep 26, 2014 7:53 am
by tony h
contribute to the subtle widespread domination

An excellent article. I remember the use of the name Liberty Hound.

A new confusion for me was being asked by an American if I do any soddering I clenched my cheeks whilst clarifying the question. Ah. He meant soldering.
I thought a bit and I asked him what the Americans called members of the army (I assumed he would not say sodders but would find an L. "Ground troops" was the reply.

Re: America’s war on language

Posted: Wed Oct 01, 2014 9:43 am
by Wizard of Oz
.. just watching an antiques show .. the tour was in Wales and in one shop, The Thomas Shop, the owner showed a wooden plaque with the letter WN carved into it .. he explained that this was a Welsh Not and school children in the 19th century were made to wear it around their neck at school if they were caught speaking Welsh .. they were then required to pass it on to another child that they caught speaking Welsh and at the end of the day the final child with the Welsh Not got flogged .. sounds fair to me ..

WoZ handing on the WN

Re: America’s war on language

Posted: Wed Oct 01, 2014 10:40 am
by Bobinwales
I was brought up in Swansea. You do hear Welsh being spoken, but it is not known as a Welsh speaking area. My grandmother had a smattering, I suspect because her mother was Welsh speaking. I now live up the Swansea Valley and you do hear more of the language here. A friend of mine, 60ish years of age told me that her mother had been made to wear the Welsh Not as a child. I did know the lady, and she remains the only person that I have met who was made to wear it.

Re: America’s war on language

Posted: Wed Oct 01, 2014 6:31 pm
by Erik_Kowal
Wizard of Oz wrote:they were then required to pass it on to another child that they caught speaking Welsh and at the end of the day the final child with the Welsh Not got flogged .. sounds fair to me
Sounds just like the kind of diabolic punishment one might have encountered in Mao's 'Cultural Revolution', or in the American South when slavery was still the norm.

It achieves multiple aims:
  • Cultural oppression of the dominated population
  • Incentive for individuals to pass on, reinforce and spread the oppression
  • Loss of sense of group identity and cohesion
  • Reinforcement of the power of rule by fear.
Plus, when you're all going around wondering whether you're the one who's going to end up getting flogged at the end of the school day, you're not going to be in the most receptive frame of mind to absorb whatever the lesson content is.

Re: America’s war on language

Posted: Fri Oct 03, 2014 12:08 pm
by Edwin F Ashworth
Before I read beyond the title, I presumed that this was going to be a discussion of Websterisms and the like. Using too many u's. Making the mandatory subjunctive ... mandatory. Flogging the last person caught using plural concord with a collective noun.