'Official' English in Maryland Xenophobia: Legislation looks mean-spirited because we do not need it.

March 29, 1998

LEGISLATION that would make English the official language of Maryland is working its way through the General Assembly for the umpteenth time.

People used to laugh at this measure but today it has to be taken seriously: It has passed the House, though its prospects in the Senate may be dim.

The bill would require state and local governments to publish documents and conduct meetings in English, just as they do now. It makes no sense. We do not need it. Nowhere in Maryland is the use of English in jeopardy.

The measure appears xenophobic and mean-spirited in that its only practical motivation seems to be to assert the superiority of Anglo-Saxon culture.

Supporters dispute that, saying a common language promotes unity and understanding. But even in Florida, southern California and other places where multilingualism is a genuine issue, English is alive and well.

English-only laws have done nothing to ease tensions when cultures clash. In Dade County, Fla., for instance, the law has provoked confusion, not unity.

The bill before the General Assembly undermines attempts by schools and public agencies to give immigrants the help they need to adjust to a new language, which they must master to succeed in their new country. The measure would produce an effect that is the opposite of what English-only proponents say they want.

Pub Date: 3/29/98

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