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It is assumed that anyone who wants to succeed in the US would learn English. Definitely
knowledge of English is the most important factor besides industry, which has enabled
the US to successfully assimilate a huge and diverse wave immigrants from all over
That was what made US - or until recently - Satu Bangsa, Satu Bahasa or
Bahasa Jiwa Bangsa !
There are determined efforts by some politicians in Washington to stop the slide
towards multi-culturalism. While some say this legislation will make US the "laughing
stock" of the world, others vigorously assert that a citizen of a nation torn
by bloody ethnic divide would greatly applaud at the American efforts to preserve
their common cultural heritage.
Conservative House Speakers Newt Gingrich, claims that public schools in California
now teach more than 80 languages.
Gingrich sounded the alarm that, unless the trend is reversed quickly, in another
20 or 30 years the American civilization would decay, particularly when its core
part, the English language, loses the premier status it has always enjoyed since
the foundation of the US.
Gingrich, echoed by others, insist that English must remain at the heart of everything
The Clinton administration opposes the legislation, saying it is unnecessary and
divisive. Clinton himself has said that opposition to multi-lingual culture conflicts
with American cultures and norms.
Dole is supportive of the measure. Republican Senators have sponsored a similar bill
which was introduced by their party colleagues in the lower house.
The Senators are expected to schedule debates in September when Congress reconvenes
following summer holidays.
The House of Representatives, however, voted to allow continued use of technical
terms- legal jargon, phrases from other languages, particularly Latin such as the
union's motto: "E Pluribus Unum" which appears on the Great Seal of the
Twenty years ago the predominant status of the English language was a fact but now
it can no longer be assumed.
Then, children of immigrants, who did not speak English in their homes, studied English
early in kindergartens. This was what their parents wanted.
And when they were in their teens, such children usually were as fluent in English
as teenaged girls and boys whose forbearers had been in the US for a hundred years.
The America I knew in the early sixties did not need a bill such as this. In a secure
US, a bill to make English supreme would not be needed.
Dato' Abdullah Ahmad is Malaysia's Special Envoy to the United Nations
(This article has been reproduced with the kind permission of Sun )