Dear editor:

In response to a recent letter on immigrants, patriotism and language learning, I would like to contribute some observations as a retired professor who has spent her life with foreign languages, both as a teacher and a learner -and, incidentally, as the granddaughter of immigrants.

American society IS a multicultural society, and not an entity that has somehow had multiple cultures forced upon it. “Our own culture” and “our own society” are made up of precisely those groups, whichever they are, that appear to annoy the letter writer. We have always absorbed outsiders, and with time they become part of the whole. This is a very large part of our strength.

Furthermore, the author of the letter writes as if he sees these alien groups as somehow sitting apart and expecting all the rest of us to adapt to them. No one wants to be mute in the midst of a nation speaking English, and fulminating and grumping about insisting on newcomers learning English is wasted energy.

Legislation on language is also pointless, since the same thing happens everywhere in the world when a minority group speaking language B comes into the midst of a dominant -culture majority speaking language A: the newcomers – let’s say the parents -speak little or no language A, and learn as much of it as they can manage for minimal contact. (and I know, as a senior citizen , that language learning is much harder when one is older). Their children can generally operate in both languages and serve to interface as necessary between their parents and the society at large. Their grandchildren are entirely comfortable in the new language, may understand only bits of their grandparents’ language, may be ashamed of it and avoid it, or may forget it completely – and presto! Speakers of English! It just takes time.

Lastly: We are NOT a Christian nation. We are a nation in which more people identify themselves as Christian than as belonging to other religions, but the Founders specifically avoided any such definition and clearly disassociated themselves from anything resembling a State church. This is another of our strengths. As someone said long ago: When Church and State become too closely tied together, one of them perishes.

In short, everyone should relax a bit and work to facilitate the adaptation/absorption process, which proceeds with creaks and bumps, but does work in the long run. We need the intelligence and talents of newcomers, as we always have.


Karen Black