Thursday, July 10, 2008

Stupid in Any Language

I was listening to talk radio yesterday morning (I know; stupid is as stupid does) where the discussion was Obama's call for Americans to ensure that their kids are bilingual. Seems like a fair enough call for education, job qualifications, a greater understanding of a culture not your own, right?

Oh, so wrong! According to the host of the show, it's a laughable premise, because why should Americans have to learn a language other than English?! As if God had intended anyone in the world to speak anything but English! And of course it then completely devolved into a discussion of immigrants failing to assimilate into "American" culture. The whole, "why should something be written in Spanish?!" argument. Which is a fair argument. But NOT what Obama was talking about. He said specifically, "Now, I agree that immigrants should learn English. I agree with that. But understand this. Instead of worrying about whether immigrants can learn English — they'll learn English — you need to make sure your child can speak Spanish. You should be thinking about, how can your child become bilingual? We should have every child speaking more than one language. You know, it's embarrassing when Europeans come over here, they all speak English, they speak French, they speak German. And then we go over to Europe, and all we can say [is], "Merci beaucoup." Right? You know, no, I'm serious about this. We should understand that our young people, if you have a foreign language, that is a powerful tool to get a job. You are so much more employable.

But why let the actual quote get in the way of three hours of a radio show, right? The most offensive part of the program (and the one that depressed me the most) was the host's derisive humor about other languages in general, and the very supportive calls he received in accord. He laughed openly about Wesleyan offering courses in Swahili. His comments ranged from "what tiny percent of the world's population speaks this language anyway, so why would you learn it?" to the idea that people from Africa are stowing away in barges to escape to the US, and here we are teaching people their language and sending them over there for god-knows-what-reason. I was so pissed off at his complete disregard for another language and culture. The fact that 50 million people speak this language was not persuasive to him; no, because that's only a tiny fraction of the world's population, so why would you learn that language? And just the way he kept overannunciating "Swa-hee-lee" made it clear what he thought of anyone learning such a ridiculous language. See? Because languages with funny names are not to be valued or learned or taught at an American university. And his callers agreed, although again, the discussion devolved into nitpicking the finer points of why immigrants won't assimilate and then conflating those ludicrous notions with Barack Obama's comments, neither of which are related to the other. But again, why let the truth get in the way of a talk radio show. Right? Because apparently the only language worth learning in that world is "insular jingoistic moron."


Vigilante said...

Perfectly put!

But here's a gestalt 'Ah-Hah':

Your next calling, E, is to be a talk show host!

Look out, Randi Rhodes! Here comes da Haggis!

Utah Savage said...

What Vig said! You are such a wonderful writer. I have no doubt you would also be a great talk show host. Might be a bit too much work what with two young kids, but still, maybe you could broadcast from the dining room. Where, besides Air America and NPR, is there a liberal voice on the radio? And I'm terribly curious, who were you listening to, Rush. If I listened to Rush, my head would explode.

St said...

FYI, I linked to this post on Mother Talkers...

Geoff said...

I'm ashamed to admit it, but things aren't really much better north of the border in this regard.

French and English Canadians have never been very good at seeing eye-to-eye, but lately, it's like everything is devolving into more and more insular institutions, based on lines that are drawn in the proverbial sand.

Language is just one more means for us to define "us" from "them."
And in our own absolute enlightenment and superiority, there is absolutely no room for us to muddy our perfection by speaking "their" heathen tongues. /sarcasm