Monday, May 5, 2008

Culture preservation? Death of a language? Should you care?

There really seems to be a lot of uproar about making people speak the same language. Not just English, but other languages as well. This debate is not confined to the U.S., of course--it is happening in many other countries as well. And not just language, but other "cultural aspects" that various governments are trying (mostly in vain) to protect.

I don't think anyone would argue that people should not learn the language of the place where they live. But in parts of the U.S., people who have moved here from foreign lands sometimes attempt to preserve their culture to the point of refusing to speak English, or at least they live in their own segregated neighborhoods where learning English is not possible or needed. What do you think about this ever-growing problem in the U.S.? Or is it not a "problem?" Is it something the various state governments should do something about? Under what constitutional pretext might the U.S. federal government get involved?

Personally, I don't see it as a problem. If you want to communicate with someone, then learn the language. If you don't, then stay away from each other. And, if you know me at all, then you know I wouldn't want to see any government involvement in any way whatsoever. I believe in people handling their own challenges. But that's just me, and I could be wrong.

There is an old-fashioned theory that America is a sort of big "Melting Pot" of some sort, where immigrants move in, learn the language, adapt to the new culture, and, over a couple of generations, become fervent flag-waving Americans. This, of course, has not been even remotely true since the end of the white European and white Asian (Russian) immigration era that ended largely with the advent of World War II.

Today, a person who immigrates to America from, say Guatamala, or Haiti, or Viet Nam, or Iraq, is hardly going to assimilate, or even WANT to assimilate into traditional American white culture. As a result, there are many "sub-Americas" within our boundaries today. Some people see this as a problem. I am not sure why this would be a problem unless your goal is to preserve (read: "force upon") a certain cultural identity of one group over another.

There have always been many more cultures in America than simply the white European culture of course. Africans in America, African Americans, Native Americans, Hispanics in America, Hispanic-Americans, and of course Asian-Americans, have always had their separate traditions and cultures. So this is hardly a new phenomena. However, they are no longer being ruthlessly suppressed by the white culture, as it becomes less and less dominate, and so the differences become more obvious than before.

Is this a problem? No. Is America going to retain a traditional national identity? No. That traditional identity has already been lost, if it ever existed; I don't think it ever did exist--not in the sense of of the cultureal identity of European countries.

To me, America has always been more of an idea than a country. And that idea was to provide a place on earth that people could come and live in peace without having to worry about having their heads beat in by some despot because of their personal beliefs or the color of their skin, or the language they spoke. Further, I am convinced that the more America tries to be a traditional European country, the further from this idea--this American Dream--they will drift.

I think this fact is why so many Europeans seem puzzled at Americans. They don't quite understand the precepts of America, where so many people of different cultures live together in such seeming turmoil and divisiveness, but yet seem to always get it done together in the end. They don't understand that America's strength is not in a common language or a common culture. These are European concepts. No. America's specialness lies in its LACK of one particular definition of what an "American" is. Paradoxically, but truly, America's strength lies in the very diversity that seems to always be tearing it apart.

We fight. We beat each other up. We call each other names. We pull this way and we pull that way. But it is a family fight. And whenever we get attacked from the outside, as many despots and dictators from decades past have learned the hard way, we suddenly come together. When it is over, our family starts fighting again. Don't feel sorry for us. There is no cure, and no cure is desired.

Personally, this writer could not give less of a damn about preserving traditional white culture, or preserving historical countries. Instead, I am concerned about children getting fed and receiving medical care. Politics I don't care about and haven't for a long time.

As usual, it is obvious I am busting my head against a brick wall. But that has been going on for me for a very very long time. Sometimes I feel like Don Quixote in modern times. But then, somebody like Marmelade comes along, and I get cheered up. There may be hope for us someday after all.


  1. purity control, ha? that's the spirit ...

  2. Ok. it is now after 4am where I am, and I think this post is finally finished. I apologize for my habit of editing posts online. I hate those little boxes. Of course, those of you who have watched me work know this, and know the words of the post are going to change, and so you wait for it to settle down. I think it is pretty much where I want it to be now.

    My points I am trying to get across in the post is that languages and other cultural aspects are ever-changing, and it is folly to stand in the way of inevitable change. Personally, change makes me feel alive.

    And, as is always the case with me, my second point is that there are many more things in the world that are more important than languages and borders. Things like feeding children, for instance.

    Have a good day, everyone.

  3. What the?! Damn you - you made me think again! I'm too cowardly to actually express an opinion on either side of this debate but the original and intelligent, though-provking has just got to stop! Please sir - you're making the rest of us look bad. Thanks in advance for your anticipated co-opertaion.

  4. Oh Canucklehead! Haven't you realized yet that on this blog the posts are just a front? Then we come down in the comments and talk all day. Did you think your comment had to have something to do with the subject of the post? No wonder you are frustrated. Oh, no, my friend. Come talk about beer and hockey and Greek pussy. Anything at all, ok?

  5. I could not have put it better. I like the way you show us as a big family. So true. I just wish we could put our efforts here in the U.S. and take care of our own.

  6. By heck, I've incurred the wrath of Mad Max again :(

    I don't believe that caring for people's welfare and caring about culture/s are mutually exclusive. Nor do I believe that protecting culture is necessarily political. I am not in the least bit interested in politics and barely understand any, least of all French politics, but I am interested in the differences between their country and ours and would like to be able to celebrate them.

    I have been visiting France for 30+ years one way or another and in that time have seen more and more erosion of those differences. It's a result of modern communication systems of all sorts, and the media. It used to be a treat to go into Auchan and buy croissants and Bonne Maman jam. Now I can buy them in my local Tesco, and I can buy Kellogg's cornflakes in Auchan. I don't want to. That is a minor point I know and, yes, feeding starving children is more important.

    But you only need ask your Welsh, Scottish and Irish readers if they want to preserve their cultural identity, which includes their languages, against the onslaught of England. It's like Catherine said, she's first and foremost Welsh, and it would be a pity if nobody cared and gradually nobody knew what it meant to be Welsh. It all adds to life's rich pattern, and nobody should have to have someone else's culture foisted upon them just because of a more powerful neighbour, regardless of the source of the power.

    And you know, it can happen when looking after children who need food or medical care. You can have my aid if you behave in the way that I say you should (ie like me). But that's a whole other subject.

    Looks like I am swimming completely against the tide here.

  7. I love this post, and I have many a comment to make about it, but I can't right now, so I'll stop back later :)

  8. the thing is max, as an american (i mean you), you should be proud to be having so many cultures and languages in your country. i think each and every one of them should be protected by their followers.

    you shouldn't worry about the "true american culture" to be threatened by the new comers, they bring their own dish to the plate and make it so much richer. because, who's to say which culture deserves preserving in the detriment of other? take chinese, for example, it's one of the oldest cultures known to humanity. should white americans tell them to naturalise and forget all about that ancient knowledge. After all, american culture is so young and unfledged, comparing to pretty much all others. That doesn't mean it shouldn't be respected or preserved. Oh, and the arabic culture, it is amazing. People should try to learn more about it, thus eliminate so many misunderstandings that lead to such terrible outcome today.

    look at europe. we are now one country, with 27 beautiful unique regions. i'm proud to be one of them.

  9. Wow! I didn't have any idea this subject would generate so much attention and opinions! You are all such deep thinkers! I think I may continue this tomorrow for another day and explore the effects of changing culture upon language ever further. I hope you will all be back. I may assign individual essays on this, too. :)


    ettarose-Yes, it often reminds me a big diverse family, each of whom bring their own special assets and talents to the table. :)

    A.-You are incredibly wrong in all of your assumptions. Just give it up.

    I jest of course. How well thought out and compelling your presentation is! It is why I want to continue this for another day, not necessarily to prove one of us right or wrong, but to explore this important subject in more depth. I look forward to your continued input after I once again have the first say. What an incredible analytical mind you have! :)

    Caroline-I am giving you a pass today, but there will be no excuses issued tomorrow. Do your homework! I SO look forward to your input on this! :)

    Marmelade. Oh, poor confused, impossibly idealistic Marmelade!

    Again, I am making fun because your logic is unassailable as usual. Of course, that will not stop me from at least TRYING to assail you. Ummmm assail your LOGIC, that is. But later. I hope you will be on hand tomorrow to shoot me down. :)

    And your new outlook which has been caused by the "new" European Union is finally FINALLY giving you Europeans an insight on how Americans have felt for so long: a group of individual "countries" (states) banded together for a common good, and to facilitate their mutual pursuit of happiness.

    You guys think this is a new and cutting-edge idea. You may consider reading the U.S. constitution some day. You will discover some of the same feelings there that your new Union inspires in you. I am happy for you. Not a new idea, however.

    I have written at length, in the past, in a separate forum on another website, a treatise which tries to explain the relationship of our states, and the intended original purpose of our federal government, using the EC as a comparative model.

    If you will examine, for example, the rather lack of importance of the selection of the President of your Community, you may then better grasp why the election of the U.S. President is not put directly in the hands of the American people. There is a reason he is not elected directly, which Europeans and quite a few Americans misunderstand. But that is another story, isn't it?

    Please gather your thoughts for another deep-learning experience tomorrow. Sorry Canucklehead.

  10. max, i think the comparison works only from an administrative point of view, however, not on a cultural one. keep in mind that the 27 countries i'm talking about have thousands of years of individual history. Each of it crystallised its own language, culture and civilisation. Most of them, historically, were enemies one way or another.

    EU is a HUGE step for humanity. Very utopic 50 years ago. Very. Just like me advocating One Earth for all, and you calling me naive.

    The american states, as brave as they are, have a common background. They came to being in the same time, more or less, with the same kind of people. Immigrants, if i'm not mistaken. :-) Of course it's so much easier to unite them.

  11. Marmelade, of course--admin only. I was (in my essay you weren't able to read) only trying to explain the concept of our federal government, and how it was never designed to be the large hog that it is today. Specifically, I was answering people who thought our president should be elected directly by the people. The EEC administration setup seemed to me a very good example of what our federal government was originally intended to be. Unfortunately, ours turned into a power-hungry big-brother monster with regard to trying to closely govern the states. I hope yours does not equally begin to slowly interfere, in the future, into the lives of your member-countries' citizens. You, of course are sure that will never happen. Good. So were my ancestors. :(

    Was not talking about cultural aspects or unification, only administration--you are right.

    And yes, we are a nation of immigrants--people from all of those countries you mention who had different languages, cultures, backgrounds, used to fight each other.... :) Then then managed to get along here No surprise they finally perhaps can get along in Europe as well. I hope.

    Strange, I don't think Americans think of your economic alliance as anything other than economic, though, as you obviously do.

  12. I'm very used to not being around people who speak English as thier first language.

    Growing up in Boston, my best friend was Dominican and none of his large family (whom I spent a lot of time around) spoke a lick of English. My neighbors were Portuguese, and I also had a close friend that was Haitian.

    When I lived in L.A., I felt like I needed to learn Spanish because of the huge Latino population (and still more Latino friends). Also, my best friends were French, and I dated a German girl that barely spoke any English.

    Now in S.F., there's every possible Asian language spoken around me all the time. My last girlfriend was Filipino and frequently spoke Tagalog. Now I'm renting a guest house from a Laotian couple that speak mostly Lao.

    I guess that's just how it is in urban areas. I've rarely known much different.

  13. Yeah. I live in western New Mexico near large Indian reservations. The languages tend to blend into one another and sort of drift back and forth between Spanish and Navajo and Spanglish. But you know, that is pretty much the way it is all over now, to one extent or another. Cool, no?

  14. Yeah, I would catch myself speaking Spanglish in L.A. a lot, without even thinking about it, then wonder if I wasn't being insulting.

  15. In LA there was probably a chance you WERE being condescending--there's so many Mexican and South American nationals there that speak Spanish really well and don't need English at all. Not so around here where the Spanish speakers were mostly born here from way back in Land Grant days before the Mexican war. Spanish is their first language, but they are as fluent, usually, as you or I in English. They just slip back and forth. It doesn't bother them to slip in an English word whenever they can't think of the Spanish word right away. Same with the Native Americans, by the way. Except they often try to make the word sound like there own. Like Kishmesh. Which Navajos pretend is their word for Christmas. And like that. Me? I don't understand shit most of the time. I smile and nod a lot. Well, after 30 years, that's not quite true, but I'm a thick-headed s.o.b. when it comes to languages. (Of course there are also a lot of Mexican Americans in LA who you would not be insulted if you spoke Spanglish to. I guess the test is, "Does this fucker speak English or not?"

    And not to be lazy or anything, but I think that was the Regan guy who had the hots for Jody Foster. Seems to me Tatum O'neil had something going on too, but I don't think it had anything to do with that guy. Can't remember what it was with her.

  16. Wait, I think it was me that had the hots for Tatum O'Neil, but I shot J.R.



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