Saturday, June 17, 2006

The Tongue That Binds Us

I've been meaning to do this post for about a week now, but other stuff kept coming up. You've probably heard the story of the English-only ordering policy at a Philly cheesesteak restaurant:
Bistec con queso? Not at Geno's Steaks.

An English-only ordering policy has thrust one of Philadelphia's best-known cheesesteak joints into the national immigration debate.

Situated in a South Philadelphia immigrant neighborhood, Geno's - which together with its chief rival, Pat's King of Steaks, forms the epicenter of an area described as "ground zero for cheesesteaks" - has posted small signs telling customers, "This Is AMERICA: WHEN ORDERING 'SPEAK ENGLISH.'"

"They don't know how lucky they are. All we're asking them to do is learn the English language," said Geno's owner Joseph Vento, 66. "We're out to help these people, but they've got to help themselves, too."
Is this a mean policy, or is Geno's really doing these folks a favor? Vento notes that his own parents--Sicilian immigrants from nearly a century ago--also struggled to learn English when they first got here, but it appears that they learned it by immersion, which is the exact same method that Vento wants his customers to employ.

Geno's employees will happily take the time to coach those with limited English so that they can get their desired order across, and nobody has ever been turned away because of language. Still, a Hispanic activist group leader noted in the article that they might try to send in people to order in Spanish and pursue litigation if the "undercover customers" were not allowed to do so. Is that really the thing we need here--more lawsuits?

As many people have noted, most of us came here from somewhere else (we'll dispense with the notion of legality for the moment, since I've stated my thoughts in an earlier post). However, our forefathers and -mothers didn't have much of a choice but to learn English when they got here, and I believe that we're doing people a disservice by coddling them the way we are now when signs, government documents, and yes, even restaurant menus are printed in more than one language. Many studies have proven that immersion, rather than bilingual education, is the way to go, and if places like Geno's are showing a little bit of "tough love" to those who would rather have us cater to their ways in our own country, this doesn't strike me as a bad thing. (And think of how much money would be saved if things only had to be printed in one language.)

Few things unite a culture like language. One only has to look as far north as Quebec to see what happens to a nation which becomes linguistically fractured. If an American went to live anywhere else in the world, he or she would be expected to learn the native tongue of their new land; why should we expect any less of those who come here?

But I have to end this on a humorous note:
Of course, it's not as if native Philadelphians speak the King's English either. A Philadelphian might order a cheesesteak by saying something like, "Yo, gimme a cheesesteak wit, will youse?" ("Wit," or "with," means with fried onions.) To which the counterman might reply: "Youse want fries widdat?"
Yes, it's a colorful tongue that we have.

Oh, I only make the laws: The mayor of an Ohio city sent out an email promoting his son's business to city workers, in clear violation of a policy he helped write.

To badd tha adultz arn't gud spellrz two: Caitlin Campbell of Amarillo was among the top finishers at this year's National Spelling Bee, so she was honored with a billboard in her hometown. Unfortunately, that billboard misspelled her name.

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