Free Capitalist Network - Community Archive
Mises Community Archive
An online community for fans of Austrian economics and libertarianism, featuring forums, user blogs, and more.

Official languages

rated by 0 users
This post has 13 Replies | 3 Followers

Top 500 Contributor
Posts 151
Points 2,705
fountainhead Posted: Sat, Apr 14 2012 9:30 PM

So I'm doing my laundry this evening and I see that they've installed new washing machines. Much to my dismay, I noticed that they are now bilingual. The instructions and the LCD display are now in English and Spanish. Nothing against the Spanish language or Hispanics of course, but it does make using the machine a bit more of a hassle for an English speaker.

This represents a growing trend in my part of the world towards having everything printed in both English and Spanish. In fact, if you live in New York City, you'll see prominent ads on buses and billboards exclusively in Spanish. But the New York State government tops them all. I could barely read my voter registration card the other day because every line is printed in tiny English, Spanish, Chinese and Korean text. They also use those same four languages at polling stations for the signage.

The laundry machine incident reminded me that the U.S. has no official language. Of course, I know having an official language wouldn't stop people from speaking their own language or private companies from printing things bilingually. I'm just curious about your views on official languages and perhaps multilingualism in general.

I'm divided on the issue. On one hand, I believe people have a right to speak their own language and that private companies have a right to print whatever they want on their products. On the other, isn't there an efficiency problem when you take a market where communication is carried out in one language and suddenly introduce a new bottleneck by adding to the number of languages used? When I eat fast food in the city these days I witness more and more problems of communication between English speakers and non-English speakers. It isn't even just English vs. Spanish anymore.

It's interesting to note that Canada has two official languages and does quite well with them. I lived there for four years and nearly everyone was perfectly bilingual. So maybe it isn't so much a matter of having only one language but of having language(s) that people agree to abide by, the way they abide by laws?

Should a common language be viewed as "infrastructure" for communication and multilingualism as akin to trying to drive somewhere but constantly running into roadblocks? Or is language similar to money, in that we could allow the market to pick the best medium of communication? Would it? Or is it more likely to result in a kind of "balkanization" by language? Let me know what you guys think.

  • | Post Points: 50
Top 50 Contributor
Posts 2,360
Points 43,785
z1235 replied on Sat, Apr 14 2012 9:44 PM

fountainhead:

Or is language similar to money, in that we could allow the market to pick the best medium of communication? Would it? 

Who is "we"? What/who is "the market", and what/who else is the alternative? "Best" according to whom?

  • | Post Points: 20
Top 500 Contributor
Posts 151
Points 2,705

z1235:
Who is "we"? What/who is "the market", and what/who else is the alternative? "Best" according to whom?"

I'm referring to the argument I've heard for allowing the market to pick the best currency rather than having it mandated by a central bank. So, in a similar fashion, is that how language should be viewed? The alternative would be to move in the direction of having an official language or perhaps even mandating that private products can only be printed in the official language. I don't necessarily endorse that but am wondering if it would actually be more efficient to have everyone speaking a common language.

  • | Post Points: 35
Top 50 Contributor
Posts 2,360
Points 43,785
z1235 replied on Sat, Apr 14 2012 9:57 PM

Would it be more efficient for you to have everyone speaking Chinese?

  • | Post Points: 5
Top 10 Contributor
Male
Posts 4,987
Points 89,745
Wheylous replied on Sat, Apr 14 2012 10:17 PM

Oh no, we should instead kidnap and beat up people who want to utter different sounds than we do.

  • | Post Points: 35
Top 50 Contributor
Posts 2,956
Points 56,800
bloomj31 replied on Sun, Apr 15 2012 9:33 AM

It would certainly be more efficient for me.  

EDIT: After doing a bit of preliminary research, I have found that there are several states (31) with official language laws.  The laws seem to pertain exclusively to government related documents and the like.  The laws do not seem to apply to private businesses.

Here's a sample from Georgia's official language law: Link

  1. The English language is designated as the official language of the state of Georgia. The official language shall be the language used for each public record, as defined in Code Section 50-18-70, and each public meeting, as defined in Code Section 50-14-1, and for official Acts of the state of Georgia, including those governmental documents, records, meetings, actions, or policies which are enforceable with the full weight and authority of the state of Georgia.

 

  • | Post Points: 5
Top 500 Contributor
Posts 151
Points 2,705

Wheylous:
Oh no, we should instead kidnap and beat up people who want to utter different sounds than we do.

Obviously, that is not what I meant. I'm asking whether you think having an official language (for voting and printing government forms, etc.) has any merit and more broadly, if you think a common language can actually make an economy more efficient.

  • | Post Points: 20
Top 50 Contributor
Posts 2,679
Points 45,110
gotlucky replied on Sun, Apr 15 2012 1:21 PM

fountainhead:

I'm asking whether you think having an official language (for voting and printing government forms, etc.) has any merit

Why make the government's job any easier?  Why make the voting process easier?  I say let anything that has to be done with the government be a miserable experience.  Maybe people will wake up.

fountainhead:

and more broadly, if you think a common language can actually make an economy more efficient.

More efficient for which group of people?  Having said that, I think it's likely a common language would make things more efficient in general.  But who said that English should be the common language?  Perhaps creole languages will be the most efficient.  Perhaps English will be.  Perhaps most people will end up bilingual.  Perhaps it actually depends upon the context of the location?  Maybe NYC will have English, and Paris will have French and English, and Barbados will have Bajan.

Maybe for the sake of efficiency Paris and Barbados should have English as their official language.  Wouldn't centralization solve everything?

  • | Post Points: 5
Top 10 Contributor
Posts 6,953
Points 118,135
Top 50 Contributor
Posts 2,956
Points 56,800
bloomj31 replied on Sun, Apr 15 2012 4:05 PM

How are we gonna force Parisians to declare English as their official language when our own Congress can't even get English declared as the official language of the United States?  

Just isn't feasible.  At a state level, it can clearly be implemented to some degree.  At a world level?  Not so much I don't think.

  • | Post Points: 5
Top 25 Contributor
Male
Posts 3,055
Points 41,895

It's interesting to note that Canada has two official languages and does quite well with them. I lived there for four years and nearly everyone was perfectly bilingual. So maybe it isn't so much a matter of having only one language but of having language(s) that people agree to abide by, the way they abide by laws?

You are joking, right?  A large part of the Quebec French in Canada have hated the English since day one.  The Fed requires everything short of letters to your mom to be made with both languages despite the fact that hardly anyone outside of Quebec can understand French.  It's highly aggravating having to sift through the French version of everything for your entire life.  If by "perfectly bilingual" you mean a few mandatory french classes in elementary school where most people fall asleep, then everyone is "perfectly bilingual".  You probably speak French about as well as I do.  It's simply absurd forced integration.

  • | Post Points: 20
Top 500 Contributor
Posts 151
Points 2,705

@Caley

No, I'm not joking. But reading what I wrote again I should have specified that I was thinking of Quebec. You're probably right about the other more English speaking provinces. You also touched on what was getting on my nerves with my voter registration form (having to sift through different languages). What I was thinking with Canada is that at least the languages are 'capped' at English and French. In the U.S., at least in New York from my experience, in the past few years, government forms have gone from English, to English-Spanish, now to English-Spanish-Chinese-Korean. Russian will probably be next.

gotlucky:
More efficient for which group of people?  Having said that, I think it's likely a common language would make things more efficient in general.  But who said that English should be the common language?

I'm thinking mainly at a national level. So obviously, I'm not saying the U.N. should force Parisians to adopt English or anything like that. But, for example, is it a good thing for France to have French as its official language? Or should they let it 'float' like the U.S. does?

  • | Post Points: 20
Top 10 Contributor
Male
Posts 6,885
Points 121,845
Clayton replied on Sun, Apr 15 2012 5:32 PM

Steven Pinker mocks the idea of official languages as "a silly conceit" in the first two minutes:

Clayton -

http://voluntaryistreader.wordpress.com
  • | Post Points: 5
Top 50 Contributor
Posts 2,679
Points 45,110
gotlucky replied on Sun, Apr 15 2012 5:32 PM

fountainhead:

I'm thinking mainly at a national level. So obviously, I'm not saying the U.N. should force Parisians to adopt English or anything like that. But, for example, is it a good thing for France to have French as its official language? Or should they let it 'float' like the U.S. does?

They should not set an official language.  If the population changes enough so that French is not the main language, I see no reason to force others to speak French.  Populations change, languages change.  I see no reason to impede change because some people feel inconvenienced.

  • | Post Points: 5
Page 1 of 1 (14 items) | RSS