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Language, or Communication?

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Language, or Communication?

It seems there is a debate in this country as to whether English should become our "official" language. The answer lies in the truth that it really is not about language, rather it is about communication. According to the Merriam Webster Dictionary, the word language refers to "a systematic means of communicating ideas or feelings by the use of conventionalized signs, sounds, gestures, or marks having understood meanings." Communication is defined by Webster as, "a process by which information is exchanged between individuals by a common system of symbols, signs, or behavior." Going a step further, exchange is defined by Webster as "reciprocal giving and receiving," and that implies understanding. If we put all this together, then, communication happens between two subjects when they use a language back and forth between themselves so that each can grasp the meaning of the other. As for use of the English language in the United States, Jamieson explains the two viewpoints of the debate in "The English-Only Movement: Can America Proscribe Language with a Clear Conscience?" Since this country was formed, America has been referred to as a "melting pot," welcoming immigrants of all races and religions. That is the basis for those who believe that, with regard to the English language, America is still a melting pot. English is the common language spoken here, and those who come are eager to learn the language and adopt the culture (Jamieson). The opposing viewpoint argues that the English language should be made "official." This belief is really founded on legality. The official language would be used in all government institutions and documents, and anyone who becomes a citizen would have to be able to speak the language enough to understand government positions and titles. In other words, to become a naturalized citizen, every person would be required to speak enough English to swear allegiance to this country and to its leaders.

Communication can be effective, regardless of the language "spoken." As an example, Amy Tan in "Mother Tongue" shows that what is often referred to as "broken English" spoken can be very effective. She recounts growing up with her mom, a Chinese immigrant who speaks imperfect textbook English today. The "broken English" she heard at home is what she learned to understand. Understanding this sub-language insured her survival in her family. She also writes that her understanding of her home language made school work in English difficult for her. She was encouraged to become a doctor, because she was a good math student. Amy states that she was good in math because there was only one precise answer to a math problem. On the other hand, her creative mind painted word pictures in her head. One task it made particularly tricky was the ability to draw word analogies from relationships between words. Amy really grew up bilingual, speaking two versions of English. She goes on to explain how her experience actually enriched her life, making her a better writer. Language does not actually have to be spoken out loud before communication occurs. For example, think about the sign language used by the deaf. Those are symbols made with the hands and the shape of words formed with the mouth used systematically to exchange information and communicate. It is a very effective language for those who have been trained in its use. Another form of silent communication employs what we call body language. Facial expressions can communicate volumes without ever speaking a word. One person can turn away from another, and that communicates they don't wish to communicate. A pointed finger to a young child can be used to expresses a warning. Finally, there



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