Multilingualism in the United States
There are many languages with various degrees of distribution and different status in the United States. Currently, the US population totals over 300 million people (excluding a significant number of illegal immigrants). Due to its British colonial past, English is predominant in the country. However, the USA has no official language at the federal level nowadays. This paper will examine the issue of multilingualism in the country and some complex issues which it causes.
Personally, I am a speaker of English, Mandarin, and Cantonese. A perfect example of code-switching would be the communication between my friends and me. When I speak with my mainland Chinese friends, I would often switch between English and Mandarin. Neither English nor Mandarin is my first language; sometimes, it is easier to speak one than the other. However, when I communicate with my Hong Kong friends, I would switch to Cantonese. As a speaker of several languages (I also have some basic knowledge in Korean and Japanese), I feel that certain things can only be understood and expressed in one particular language, and direct translation cannot truly explain everything. “Switching is a creative style of bilingual communication that accomplishes important cultural and conversational work”. For example, slang or a joke in a certain language is usually tied to the culture of that language and country. Thus, even though one can translate using a dictionary, he can never fully appreciate the meaning behind it.
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Since the US originally was a country of immigrants and settlers, different languages are prevalent in the country currently. Of course, English is the main one, but along with it, Spanish, Chinese, French and many other languages are widely used. Nowadays, 96% of the US population speaks English, or rather, American English dialect. I think that the US has a great prospect of multilingualism. Especially, it is an important issue for the young people. While doing my observation, I was able to note that the approximate age of speakers using varieties of English is nearly 17-25 years. In my opinion, it clearly shows that this social group has no problems in private communications with each other even if they use different language varieties. If they belong to the same language group, they can speak both their native and English languages between themselves. The application of two different languages is comfortable for these people, and they do not hesitate to express their thoughts in the way they consider to be the most appropriate to the situation. In addition, I have come up with an idea that in some situations, the code switching helps to reveal the views deeper. It means that the nature of some terms can be totally rendered only with the help of using the specific language.
Additionally, I tried to pay especial attention to slang expressions. I was able to notice that it is widely used by young people. Certainly, slang is opposed to the official common language. Its main feature is that it can be fully understood only by the representatives of a narrow number of people who belong to a particular social and cultural group. Often, they are its inventors. Slang lives a full life in modern verbal conversations but is considered undesirable for the application in the literary language. Sometimes, its usage is funny, and occasionally, it can be rude and vulgar which turns it into the challenge for the official language. However, the youth slang is one of the components of the process of language development, completion and diversity. I cannot imagine the modern communication without using slang. I use it myself as it helps to determine and reveal some things in a simple and understandable way. I have noticed that although slang is used primarily by young people, it plays a huge role in the speech of adults. It can be explained by a feature of slang to give a bright emotionally expressive description and exact characteristics of the object or phenomenon. Nowadays, people communicate using specific terms and abbreviations due to the emergence of mobile phones with the SMS messaging, e-mail, and social networks. Accordingly, simple designs appear in language more often, and one can apply them to convey his thoughts quickly. In short, the English language is not standing still and includes both slang that has its own rules and the existing literary standards. A huge extent to which slang has penetrated into the modern language can be explained by the fact that there is a number of grammar programs and mobile applications which do not consider it as words that need to be corrected.
Language policy is a complex set of tools and techniques provided by the state in order to change or retain the existing distribution of languages. Language ideology is the most common point of view about language which is spread in a separate community. It should be noted that throughout the history of the US, the ideology of English monolingualism has laid the basis of the language policy. Language assimilation of linguistic minorities was an inevitable part of cultural assimilation into the dominant society. However, historical experience shows that it is necessary to distinguish between strict subordination to the main culture and the gradual entry into it. I think, every multilingual individual in the US is expected to be involved into behavioral assimilation that means providing correspondence with the external attributes of foreign language and cultural norms. Advocates of monolingualism believe that immigrants belonging to linguistic minorities should abandon their languages in compensation for the right to become the part of the host society. Sadly, the ideology of “English-only” implies the loss of culture for all minority groups, which, in turn, leads to the loss of language and culture of their ancestors. I consider such statements very unfair and inappropriate for the society based on the principles of democracy and equality. I do not think my friends from Mainland China and Hong Kong should be discredited on language grounds. Thus, I believe that it would be wise and fruitful to promote intercultural relationship and save the cultural and language values of all the national groups and diasporas within the US society.
Not surprisingly, the “English-only” paradigm has a huge amount of opponents. Citrin et al. state that “such measures portray it as mechanisms of exclusion rather than assimilation”. Those who do not support the given ideology also argue that it is an improper and unfair situation in which language minorities are inferior and unwanted in the US.
No doubt, English will prevail in any case since the language ideology causes its standardization. This process involves reduction of free verbal and writing options to the same linguistic units. In other words, it is selecting the language forms that are considered exemplary, prescribed and recommended to use. They are applied to the dictionaries and grammars and used as a basis for the normalization of the language.
Representatives of many nations, different religions and cultures, speaking different languages, live in the US today. Attitude to minorities has seriously changed in the last decade. Nowadays, I often see the samples of mixing language. Moreover, the new contact language emerges in the areas where bilingualism is widespread. The main difference between the mixed language and pidgin is the fact that the latter involves the existence of the language barrier. Contacting people do not know each other’s language and are forced to communicate in pidgin to address common issues. The mixed language appears in conditions of full bilingualism when the representatives of the group are sufficiently proficient in both languages. They compare, borrow and implement certain elements into the new language, which is constructed spontaneously. Thus, one is talking not about the usual mixing codes in bilingualism, but creating a language with fixed rules, vocabulary and so on. I believe that the emergence of a mixed language is a group’s response to its needs for self-identity and is created for intergroup communication. Creation of a mixed language usually occurs rapidly during the life of one or two generations. It can be said that one generation invents a language and continues to use two of them, one of which is native. For the next generation, a new mixed language already becomes native and serves as a means of intergroup communication. This process is reflected in Finegan and Rickford’s study who say that “from the perspective language use in the diverse Asian American community English can be viewed as “the glue that binds”. It means that while the older members of the group may make huge affords in order to learn the unknown language of the chosen country, the next generation of their children has native English abilities. The initial languages from which mixed language has been created are also known and used when communicating with other groups. Later, one of the source languages, usually less prestigious one, is no longer applied.
Without a doubt, I understand that the issue of multilingualism in the United States is very debatable. However, there must be a means of communication which would be close to everyone in such a vast community united by a common territory and the laws. And, English is such a language. No one questions the necessity of the preservation of the native language by a particular diaspora, but in order to understand the literature and culture of the country of residence, it is necessary to have a single mean of communication.