Saturday, July 07, 2007

Noonan - American Style

By Libby

Peggy Noonan celebrated the birth of our nation like any good, redblooded, patriotic American would. She went shopping at Bloomies, reflected on her overwhelming gratitude for air-conditioning and lamented her inability to condescend to immigrants because they just won't bother to learn English dammit.
In the future, with the terrible problems we face, we are going to need to understand each other more and more, better and better. We're going to need to know how to say, "This way" and "Let me help" and "stop" and "here." We're going to have to negotiate our way through a lot of challenges, some dramatic, some immediate, and it will make it all the harder, all the more impossible-seeming, if we can't even take each other's meaning, and be understood.

Got that you ungrateful immigrants? How is Peggy going to let you know Bloomies has that great $450 jacket on sale for only $150, not to mention those $750 sandals for only $200 if you refuse to learn her language?

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11 Comments:

Blogger Capt. Fogg said...

Bourgeois Americans and their language phobias! It's funny to watch them abroad. I was in a souvenir store in Xian once when a tour bus disgorged its limping lot. There was a woman who wanted a jade tiger and hoped to obtain one by saying jade tiger in ever louder blasts while she was offered dragons and foo dogs of all sizes.

"It's called a lao hu" I said. "just ask for a lao hu"

She looked at me and fled. Probably thought I was a Communist.

In Europe and Asia everyone tries to speak English with me. Every man woman and Child in China seems to love the word "hello" and shout it at you at every opportunity. Americans in the street market are hounded with hellos but my compatriots never seem to know how to ask "how much" or even "where's the toilet."

I remember years ago, a young woman on the street carrying a baby waved the baby's hand at me and said hello. I said ni hao, xiao pungyo - how are you, little buddy - she nearly dropped the kid.

Maybe she thought I was Canadian.

Peggy's pushing the idea that not only do all immigrants refuse to speak English, but that mastery should be almost instantaneous. Of course neither is at all true, but when has anything she's said been true? New York has been a multilingual city since Peter Minuet tried to throw the Jews out in the 17th century and that's one of the best things about it. It's had theaters and newspapers in dozens of languages for over a hundred years. The languages change with the inevitable assimilation and move to the suburbs of successive generations, but so far it's still part of the US.

11:26:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Peggy needs to consider that perhaps the woman speaks English just fine but just didn't want to encourage some crazy woman talking to her in the middle of the street in a big city. Go figure. On the subject of a common language, I believe we do need to have a common language, English would be preferable since it has been the common language since the beginning. Our common language is what makes all of us in this big melting pot of a country Americans,no matter our color or gender or ancestry.

11:29:00 AM  
Blogger Libby Spencer said...

Fogg - I've often been amused, or at least bemused by the behavior of American tourists in foreign countries. Even many ex-pats don't bother to learn the language of their host country outside of ordering booze and food, and stay cloistered in their little US enclaves.

Rocky - English is our common language. Immigrants adapt to it even if they don't get fluent. It's not like they forbid their kids to learn it.

When I hear these bigots muttering about forcing those immigrants learn "our" language, I can't help but think of the Italian family that lived behind me in Hartford. Three generations in one house. The grandparents didn't speak a word of English. Their children struggled with it but it was the third generation that was fluent. It didn't stop them from contributing to the community. They were all honest people and good citizens.

12:41:00 PM  
Blogger Capt. Fogg said...

It's just my opinion, but I don't think English is in any danger of no longer being the common language. I believe it's still required to become a naturalized citizen. I think this is just another fear bomb they've dropped, like so many others, with the intention of taking away one more increment of freedom. In this case, I think it's the first amendment which guarantees no abridgment of free speech. No mention is made of what language that speech must be in.

For what it's worth, the word verification for this is KODAK. Who got paid for that one? :-)

12:54:00 PM  
Blogger Libby Spencer said...

LOL Fogg. It's surely not me getting paid for that. Just as I don't get paid for the ads that haloscan puts on the comment section over at last one speaks.

My word verify for this comment:
hwomb. Think that's in response to all the pro-choice I've been posting?

1:18:00 PM  
Blogger Donald Douglas said...

Language phobia? What's that? How about a phobia of the destruction of the nation? At least Noonan's got the common sense to see through all the multicultural evil. Chinese? Spanish? Who knows what language will be our master? Get a grip. A national language -- indeed, a people's heritage -- is worth preserving. The world's ethnically cleansed states can attest to that. It's coming to America!

5:58:00 PM  
Blogger Libby Spencer said...

Mr. Douglas - with due respect, having read your blog, I think you're afraid of just about everything and your answer to every fear seems to be commit wanton acts of violence against those who make you tremble.

I might suggest you simply hide under your bed until Bush wins the war on terror. I hear it's about to turn a corner any minute now.

As for our country being destroyed by foreign language speakers, I should think a college professor would realize it was built by foreign language speakers. What do you suggest we do to remove this dire threat to our nation? Declare English the official language and make speaking a foreign tongue a capital crime? I think that might put a bit of a crimp on tourism, not mention shut down Chinatown. Who will starch your shirts then?

6:58:00 PM  
Blogger Donald Douglas said...

Miss Libby: It's not fear but a respect for tradition and reason that animates me. And I never said anything about making English a the national language. Your own comments about who starches my shirts demonstrates a patronizing and stereotypical stance toward immigrants. Chinatown? C'mon. That's simple. Who needs to go there? I think you need to really live diversity for awhile! As a college professor -- and one who cares about the upward mobility of our nation's newcomers -- I can assure you that language assimilation remains a key to personal mobility, and English supremacy is a national priority.

7:31:00 AM  
Blogger Donald Douglas said...

Miss Libby: I missed something. The country was not built by foreign language speakers. The country was founded by Anglo-Protestants. Those that came later assimilated to English. The process still works, although multiculturalists reject the assimilationist project. They are afraid. They fear integration into the American mainstream, perceived to them as imperialist and totalitarian. In that sense they dramatically differ from earlier waves of immigrants to our shores. So pull off the blinders yourself. Refrain from sticking your snooty nose up to dismiss those resisting irrationalism. And stop distorting the fine points of argument of others. I'm sure, as a college professor, you can do better than that.

8:08:00 AM  
Blogger Libby Spencer said...

Donald - no offense intended but I hardly need to be lectured about diversity from an academian. It's the ultimate insulated community. The world looks very different from the ivory tower than it does from us little folks' perspective down here on the street. You betray your own prejudice when you say who needs Chinatown. The Chinese do, if no one else. And what is this supposed to mean?

I can assure you that language assimilation remains a key to personal mobility, and English supremacy is a national priority.

English supremacy? What is that and how do you hope to acheive it? Chinatown is a perfect example of upward mobility without assimilation. Chinatowns all across the country are thriving communities where many of its residents never get fluent in English. Have you ever been to Chinatown in Manhattan? The best restaurants don't even have English menus and I assure you that the upscale ones that cater to tourists and do have English menus employ cooks who don't speak a word of it.

Upward mobility depends on economic opportunity, much more so than language. The income gap has widened into a virtual abyss thanks to your guy's Bushenomic house of cards. Upward mobility is not a priority of this administration, so if that was really your concern you would not be supporting Bush's policies.

As for English speakers building the country, I might remind you that even the pilgrims were univited immigrants. The country wasn't empty when they arrived and the indigenous residents they took the land from were Indians. I don't believe they were English speakers.

I've got nothing against assimililation and I'm not the one so afraid of every culture different than mine that I want to subject them to my special scorched earth treatment. Before you start pointing fingers at my snooty nose, I suggest you take a look in the mirror. And by the way, I'm not distorting your arguments, I'm disputing your premise. If you're unable to defend your points logically, that's not my fault.

I'm open to opposing views and I'm willing to be persuaded of errors in my thinking. So far, you've failed to do so. If you care to make specific arguments in lieu of generalized accusations of irrationalism, I'm happy to listen.

9:10:00 AM  
Blogger Donald Douglas said...

Miss Libby: Now I think we're getting somewhere! But I do need to clarify a point or two. As for seeing diversity on the ground, I'm not talking as a professor exclusively. I live in Southern California. Various U.S. Census studies have identified many of the regions here as among the most ethnically diverse in the country. Diversity is a fabulous thing, and my friends have and continue to come from every walk of life. That doesn't mean U.S. citizens must assimilate to the immigrants, needing to learn Chinese or Spanish, etc, to communicate and exchange. Large communities here are ethnically driven, hence my point about "Chinatown," a quaint notion recalling urban ethnic enclaves. One might as well call Irvine, Ca., "Chinatown," given it's large number of Chinese, but that would be simple, given the Asian diversity there. Santa Ana is 90 percent Latino, but we don't call it "Little Mexico." You note that many immigrants never learn English. That's great if one wants to own a neighborhood restaurant, but how's that going to help those who want to fully integrate into the mainstream (by moving up and out of the neighborhood)? You do distort my position, though, despite your protestations. I never called for English as a national language. Noonan doesn't even argue for it. Rather she argues against two or more languages, and the dilution of English. Separatism is happening. I've written about it plenty of times on my page. Some welcome it, because they detest the dominant American national identity, as it seems you do. It's easier to caricature than to engage, though, as is your wont.

I think you're kidding yourself about upward mobility. Immigrants historically have prided themselves on English attainment, especially for their children. It is the ticket to economic and political assimilation. But you digress with your partisan shots at the Bush administration. The income gap didn't just arise in the last seven years, but has been a factor of the post-1970s U.S. and global economy. Economic growth has been more sustained, and employment steadier, under Bush than was so under Clinton. If you have the data to rebut the point, let's see it. But I can see your views are strictly partisan, despite your claims to ideational openness. You like to evade the point rather that argue persuasively to the contrary. You label principled positions as "fear," for example, as if there were something wrong with that. Fear is a basic human impulse, a necessary instinct. I'd be scared if planes were plowing into the New York office towers where I worked. I'd be scared if I was getting off the Madrid underground as it was exploding into a fiery ruin of death and destruction. But hey, it's easier to brush off legimate argumentation as "fear mongering" than actually engage it persuasively. Copycat arguments -- your point about snootiness, for example -- are a sincere form of flattery, but don't disprove positions, they evade them. (I know a snooty take on things when I see it, especially on diversity and immigration.) It's a way, in any case, of turning the tables -- it's not too hard to assert it's your opponent's problem if he can't make a logical point, a point itself bereft of deeper logic. You come from an irrational perspective, if I may say, for multiculturalism as an ideology is a rejection of the modernist, scientific, industrial, cultural, and linguistic heritage of the nation. A national heritage of reason and progress. A nation of settlers, by the way, not immigrants. Settlers who triumphed in establishing a new nation. You again digress with boilerplate left wing rants denouncing takings of the land. But be honest: The superior civilazation prevailed. Native peoples couldn't compete, and instead had to adapt to a more dynamic system of economic and political organization. It's politially incorrect to say it, but it's the truth (hard to bear, for a pure ideologue though it may be).

1:06:00 PM  

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