Old Joke: French people must be very smart.
Even little kids can speak French.
Newt Gingrich, among others, wants to make English our official language. If that was it, okay, but they also want to stop use of other languages in all government services and publications. Big mistake. We need more, not fewer foreign language speakers, unless, like Ron Paul, we think we should seal our borders and keep the world out. What a terrible loss that would be for us.
A better idea is to teach every child a second language. In most people, language learning ability shuts down after childhood, so it should start in kindergarten or even nursery school.
Middle America is not known for producing bi-lingual people, but are the Republican presidential contenders right in assuming it is narrow, blinkered, and must be appealed to with displays of intolerance? Newt Gingrich, PhD, derides “Eastern elites.” Rick Santorum, MBA, LLD, says college is for “snobs.” Mitt Romney, as natural in jeans as a fish in a raincoat, ineptly blurts, “y’all” hoping to be taken for what he is not.
Were a genie to offer me one wish, it would be to have another language implanted in my brain. And while I’m dreaming, I’d want it to be as exotic as possible, even a “language isolate,” like Basque or Chitimacha. Or a Native American language like Navaho, the language of WW-II “code-talkers,” or Sami, the language of sub-Arctic Europe which has hundreds of different words for “snow.” Being able to shape ideas in another language is like being able to inhabit a different world. In Zulu, the expression meaning “far away” is, “where one cries, mother, I am lost.” Martin Buber wrote about a single word in a Fuegian language that means, “They stare at one another, each wanting what both wish but neither is able to express.” O, to enter such worlds!
I’ll never find that genie, but take solace in my high school French, and Italian picked up during a year in Italy after WW II. Both hint at the wonders of being able to slip through the magic door of language to experience other ways of being human.