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English Only Update 2008
Alert:  EO measure passes committee, heads to House

Hello Everyone,

Here is the latest on the efforts of Rep. Randy Terrill (R, Moore) to get his official English measure passed. (This measure, SB 163, would put a constitutional amendment on the ballot, making English the official language of the state of Oklahoma and forbidding the use of any other language in the transaction or documentation of state business in any language other than English, with certain exceptions.  Exceptions are made for the use of Native American languages, American Sign language, Braille, and where public health and safety are concerned.  Terrill claims it does not interfere with freedom of speech, or federal law.)

SB 163 was voted out of the General Government and Transportation Committee Wednesday, by a vote of 11-5, with no public comment allowed.  Reps. Al Lindley, Mike Brown, and Jerry McPeak spoke strongly against it. Reps. Terrill and Faught spoke for it.  Many members of the public, including Chief Chad Smith of the Cherokee Nation, were there to listen, and many wanted to speak to the committee for or against the measure (I would say probably 3 out of 4 were against it).  Committee Chair Guy Liebmann ruled that there would be NO PUBLIC COMMENT.  One of the committee members offered to yield his time to Chief Smith, and was told NO.  Chief Smith began to speak, and was continually interrupted by Liebmann, who finally said that if he continued, he would have him bodily removed from the room.

There were two video cameras in the meeting room.  One was apparently from channel 5 OKC, which ran a story that night (you may be able to see it on their website -- koco.com, I believe?).  I don't know where the other one was from.  Richard Grounds and I, and several others, were interviewed by El Nacional following the meeting.  Secretary of State Susan Savage hung out for a while.  I talked to her a bit; she seems to be against EO, and was also unhappy about how Chief Smith had been treated.  Chief Smith was interviewed by a couple of people. Razi Hashmi, of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, was interviewed by several press members.

The bill now goes to a vote of the full House, probably next week.  The next floor session begins at 1:30 pm Monday, April 7.  When SB 163 is scheduled to be voted on, it will be posted on the agenda at www.lsb.state.ok.us.  I believe it has to be posted 24 hours in advance of the session.  If SB 163 passes the House, it would then have to be voted on in the Senate again, and signed by the Governor, before it would actually go on the ballot. And I think there would be a period during which the public could ask the Supreme Court not to allow it on the ballot (this worked once before with a similar initiative).  If the public votes on it, it will undoubtedly pass; there will not be enough time to change enough minds.

If you oppose the bill, now is the time to contact your representatives, again.  Please do; emails and phone calls in large numbers do make a difference.  And Al Lindley suggested calling House Speaker Chris Benge - chrisbenge@okhouse.gov, (405) 557-7340 - to let him know that you do not want him to allow a vote on it (he has the power to keep it from coming to a vote), and House Minority Leader Danny Morgan - dannymorgan@okhouse.gov, (405) 557-7368.  And I think it's also good to think ahead, and call or email your state senator, to let them know that if this measure passes out of the House and comes back to the Senate that you want them to vote against it.  Richard Grounds also suggests somebody should talk sense to Lisa Billy and Rex Duncan.  I think it is also not too early to contact Kenneth Corn, leader of the Democratic Caucus in the Senate - cochran@oksenate.gov, (405) 521-5576 - and a former Choctaw student at O.U.

If you're able to get to the Capitol, visit your legislators, and any other legislators you care to, to express your opposition.  Also plan to fill the House galleries the day of the vote; show the legislators that
this vote is not going unwitnessed.  House opponents of official English include the following, who should be thanked, and may have further advice:

Rep. Al Lindley - allindley@okhouse.gov - (405) 557-7408
Rep. Mike Brown - mikebrown@okhouse.gov - (405) 557-7368
Rep. Shane Jett - shanejett@okhouse.gov - (405) 557-7349
Rep. Jerry McPeak - jerrymcpeak@okhouse.gov - (405) 557-7302
Rep. Dale Turner - daleturner@okhouse.gov - (405) 557-7306.

Don't give up!  If this constitutional amendment passes, it will be VERY hard - nearly impossible - to remove it!  And the rights you save today will benefit future generations.  Tell all your friends and e-lists that may want to fight this, too.

- Alice Anderton
Executive Director, Intertribal Wordpath Society
Co-Spokesperson, Coalition for Language Diversity


Mother Language Week

Governor Proclaims "Mother Language Week" in Oklahoma

Governor Proclaims "Mother Language Week" in Oklahoma Governor Brad Henry has declared the week of February 20-26 "Mother Language Week" in Oklahoma. This date was chosen because February 21 was designated as "International Mother Language Day" by UNESCO (The United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization) in 2000 and has been observed each year since then. That date this year happened to fall on President's Day in the United States. That is why the Coalition for Language Diversity, an Oklahoma group monitoring language laws and policies and promoting the "English Plus" philosophy that each citizen should be fluent in English and at least one other language, suggests that schools and community organizations might use the week to educate the public about the rich diversity of languages in Oklahoma and the world.

Alice Anderton, Co-Spokesperson for the Coalition, said that it is particularly fitting that the Governor proclaim the first "Mother Language Week" in Oklahoma in 2005, in light of the fact that the United States Senate has declared 2005 the "Year of Languages."

According to linguists there are about 6,000 languages spoken in the world. The most widely-spoken languages in the world are usually listed as Mandarin Chinese, English, Hindi/Urdu, Spanish, Russian, Arabic, Bengali, Portuguese, Japanese, German, French, and Indonesian.
Oklahoma's most-spoken language, of course, is English. There are also many speakers of Spanish, Vietnamese, American Sign Language (technically "used" but not spoken, because this is a gestural language used primarily by deaf people and their families), as well as Cherokee (the most-spoken Native American language of Oklahoma, with around 9,000 speakers). There are also smaller numbers of speakers of many other languages; according to the Intertribal Wordpath Society of Norman, this includes 24 other Native American languages in nine families.


English Only Alert 2004

(1) HB 1020, the "English Only" bill, is dead for another year. Thanks for all your letters, emails, and phone calls.

(2) Al Lindley has authored a concurrent resolution, HCR 1049, which is an "English Plus" bill--i.e., says English is fine, but so are all our other languages and cultures; we don't need English Only. He needs a co-author on the Senate side before the bill can proceed to committee. Since it is only a resolution, the usual deadlines for bills does not apply. But if you could contact your Senators ASAP and ask them to co-author and let Al Lindley know that they are willing, then we can get on with it. -AA

Background

HB 1020 would make English the official language of Oklahoma, and generally forbid the use of other languages by the government, either orally or in publications.  Some exceptions are made for Indian languages, for federally mandated translations and for public safety.

Arguments against HB 1020

• It is unnecessary.  English is quite safe.  Immigrants are learning English at a faster rate than ever before.It is unconstitutional, restricting the speech of government employees.
• It is based on the lie that it is the English language that unites us as Americans.
• It is divisive, creating an "us" and a "them."  In many places where English Only has passed, it has created new ethnic tensions or made existing tensions worse.
• It limits access to government services to only those with good English language skills.
• It may actually discourage the learning or maintenance of other languages and cause Oklahomans to become even more monolingual, a handicap in dealings with the rest of the world.
• Many Indian leaders feel the exception for Indian languages is merely an attempt to divide the opposition, and that such a law, if passed, could too easily be amended later under the guise of "leveling the playing field."
• It will inevitably lead to law suits which will be expensive for the state to defend against.
• It makes no exception due to physical limitations, for the use of American Sign Language.
• It is vaguely worded, e.g. in the phrase "absent compelling circumstances."  Presumably each state employee would be charged with interpreting such phrases and memorizing the relevant exceptions.  In practice, this will probably mean a chilling effect, beyond even the intended purpose of the bill.
• It creates a "mean and intolerant" image of Oklahoma.

Some of the organizations opposing HB 1020:

Green Party of Oklahoma
Intertribal Wordpath Society
League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC)
Oklahoma Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages (OKTESOL)
Society of Oklahoma Linguists
Task Force on the Education of Limited English
Proficient Students in Oklahoma

- Alice Anderton and Ed Romo
Co-Spokespersons, Coalition for Language Diversity
February 2004


Position of the Intertribal Wordpath Society

January 28, 2003
The Oklahoma English Language Act, authored by Rep. Ron Kirby and known as HB 1020, is the latest in a series of "English Only" laws to be proposed for Oklahoma. It praises English above other languages, claiming that English is what unites Oklahomans; we find this not to be true. It declares English to be the official state language of Oklahoma; we find this unnecessary, since all Oklahomans are already aware of the importance of English in public and commercial life. It implies that making English the official language of the state will help people get better jobs, housing, and insurance; we disagree. It professes respect for Indian languages; yet by glorifying English at the expense of the Native American languages and other minority languages of Oklahoma, we feel that it insults these languages and their speakers.

Even though the English Only movement has racist roots, we believe many English Only supporters are non-racists who have been misled by EO supporters into believing that such a law would have no effect, or would be desirable, based on several erroneous beliefs. For example, some Oklahomans are not aware of how many other languages are spoken in the state, or of their importance to the ethnic identity of so many of our citizens; so they do not understand the impact that such a law will have, or what an insult it offers to hundreds of thousands of their fellow Oklahomans. Some want to encourage everyone to raise their children speaking English only, in the erroneous belief that children who grow up speaking English plus another language will have weaker English skills than those who grow up monolingual, and thus be disadvantaged in life (many studies have shown the opposite--their English skills will be stronger). Some believe that English is somehow a better language than other languages. Some have an irrational fear of bilingual education. Some believe that having an official language unites the citizens of a country and lessens political and social strife; yet in countless examples, the opposite has been true--minorities who feel their language is being devalued or excluded become disaffected from the majority. Some, worried that English may someday become a minority language, are afraid to extol, or even tolerate, the diversity that is such a natural and important feature of our state.

We urge all Oklahomans to consider whether it is appropriate for the state to make some Oklahomans feel more "official," or more sanctioned, or more Oklahoman, in their language than others.

There is a danger that this will be seen by some as one more instance of a bullying majority culture trying to intimidate and assimilate minority cultures, including Native American communities. In the nineteenth century the assimilationist political and cultural philosophy of "killing the Indian to save the man" became very entrenched in government policy, which forbade the use of Indian languages in many boarding schools, and attempted to limit the expression of Indian culture. These attitudes improved somewhat in the twentieth century, until revived by the English Only movement, which seems to be attempting to hold the first class citizenship of all minorities hostage to conformity with the majority. The effect on proposed bilingual education programs and Indian language programs in the schools, while not entirely predictable, cannot be good; yet these programs will be essential if heritage languages are not to become extinct. One third of Oklahoma Indian languages are already gone from the state, and all 24 of those remaining are endangered.
Proponents have said that such a measure is harmless because it is mainly symbolic, making exceptions for many concerns that were raised about previously proposed English Only laws; they say it is similar to designating a state bird or flower. IWS finds the symbolism inappropriate and offensive. The implication that official English can heal divisions and ills is wrong; in fact, official language laws can create ethnic divisions. HB 1020 is really majority culture enthusiasts boasting that their language is better and more important than everyone else’s, and trying to get that opinion enacted into a law for all Oklahomans.

Questions or comments? Contact: Intertribal Wordpath Society, 1506 Barkley St., Norman, OK. (405)447.6103. wordpath@yahoo.com.

 

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