Belgium Dying?

Languages of Benelux

Languages of Benelux

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Languages_Benelux.PNG

Note that Benelux is Belgium, Netherlands, and Luxembourg, so that language map shows more than just Belgium:

Belgium Language Areas.  Red: French,  Orange: Flemish, Green: German

Belgium Language Areas. Red: French, Orange: Flemish, Green: German

Note that the Capital City is a mixed area…

Original Image

OK, sometimes you just have to wonder if it’s “got legs” or is just creepy…

From:

http://english.pravda.ru/world/europe/21-12-2010/116291-belgium-0/

Yes, THAT Pravda… but you never get this kind of stuff in the US Lame Stream Media… but they can sure tell you what J-Lo is having for breakfast…

Belgium has been virtually canceled
21.12.2010

“Belgium no longer works. It is a nation that has failed.” This loud statement recently came from Bart De Wever, a candidate for Prime Minister of this country and leader of the Nationalist Party The New Flemish Alliance. Thus, one of the leading politicians of Belgium acknowledged that the country that hosts the headquarters of the EU and NATO is on the verge of a collapse.

Oh Dear… and the headquarters of NATO too…

For anyone not familiar with it, Belgium has two major cultural / linguistic groups. The Walloons, who are basically French, and the Flemish, who speak Dutch but like to call it Flemish. (Hey, My Uncle speaks Texan, so I get it!) Though if you take a look at the map up top, even that “two-way” description is way too simple.

While it is often held up as an example of how you can have “a country divided” along language lines, the fact is that a divided country never really does work quite right. It’s always an issue. (That is why I’m in favor of having ONE national language. I don’t really care what it is, so much as that there be one. ALL public affairs of the government to be done in that language and all “required things” to be done in it (like annual financial reports and voters pamphlets). If folks want to voluntarily do another language as well, by all means… but not the crazyness we have in the USA where a voters pamphlet has to be translated into darned near every language on the planet…

FWIW, I am VERY fond of other languages. I’ve formally studied 4 of them (and got good at 2, ok at 1) while I’ve informally (i.e. on my own) dabbled in a dozen others. I really LIKE languages. BUT… There needs to be ONE ‘tie that binds’ to pull a country together. If not, it will eventually fissure. It’s only a question of time.

So, back at Belgium. The French speakers want to stay stuck together. The Flemish speakers want a divorce:

However, the Flemish have exactly the opposite opinion. For several decades they have been insisting on weakening the power of the center and the transfer of powers to individual regions of Wallonia and Flanders. Flemish politicians have complained that they had to allocate too much funds for “maintenance” of Francophone, and they are demanding new powers. The Walloons disagree. Flemings are also unhappy with the fact that the Walloons do not make an effort to learn the Flemish language. As a result, a compromise cannot be reached.

The result of divergence of the views of the representatives of the two communities was the fact that Belgium has been living without government since June.

Sounds like a ‘feature’ to me ;-)

De Wever, who was tasked by King Albert II to form the Cabinet last summer, is unable to find coalition partners among Francophone. Trying to find a way out of the crisis, the monarch for the first time in many years has entrusted the right to establish the Government to a Walloon, the representative of Francophone Socialists Elio de Rupo. However, this scenario was rejected by the Flemish.

The events that followed looked very much like a political soap opera. Albert II has again turned to “Prime Minister de Wever.” The winner of the Flemish elections again spoke about the fact that for Francophone the expansion of the administrative and economic autonomy of Wallonia and Flanders was unacceptable. In practice, this meant a reduction in the amounts pumped from the Flemish budget into Walloon. The Francophone took it with hostility.

As a result, De Wever admitted that he would not want to continue the dialogue with the Walloon Region and prefers new elections. “It’s becoming more and more difficult, at any rate, to form a federal government. If we join such a government, there is a great risk of losing the next election. We were elected because we support radical changes and because the voters trust us not to cave in after six months of negotiations,” said the politician.

Oh, the pain, the pain…

You just can’t make up this kind of stuff. And folks wonder why I’m against having amnesty and a flood of Spanish speakers overwhelming the USA. Look, I’ve not nothing against Hispanics. I’ve got some Hispanic relatives (my niece is married to a Hispanic guy, for example) and as a kid I spent about 1/2 my waking hours in an All Spanish All The Time home (a very good friend). I can function fairly well in Spanish.

It’s just that the ‘end game’ doesn’t change. When the “assimilation” doesn’t happen, “fracture” does.

According to their results, the party advocating the division of the country secured nearly 45 percent of votes in Flanders. “We can no longer ignore that this (independence) is wanted by the majority of the Flemish population. Therefore it is necessary to prepare for the end of Belgium,” commented on these results Laurette Onkelinx, a representative of the Walloon Socialists and Deputy Prime Minister.

Another Flemish broadcaster – VRT – also conducted a survey on the subject of maintaining the unity of Belgium. Its outcome is far less comforting: 66 percent of the residents of Flanders believe that the country will “sooner or later fall apart,” while 46 percent want independence immediately. The explanation of the supporters of independence is not surprising: the Flemings do not want to feed the less affluent Wallonia.

If the collapse of the country does happen, it will by no means be painless. The main stumbling block will be Brussels. Historically it is a Flemish city, but most of its population today speaks French. […]

It is time for the leadership of the European Union, whose headquarters are in Brussels, to think about it as well. So far the EU, which is formally chaired by a Belgian (Flemish) Herman van Rompuy, never spoke about the fact that Belgium is bursting at the seams and there is no end to its political crisis. The EU failed to put the Flemish and Walloon politicians to the negotiating table in their headquarters, put pressure on them, and suggest the ideas that would break the deadlock.

I’m left wondering just how the EU can put Belgium politicians under pressure or force them into negotiations. Then again, the whole EU as New Roman Empire thing doesn’t “click” for me anyway. Vote? Who needs a vote…

One thing is for sure, the “Home of the EU” is “having issues”… and I have no idea what trades on their stock market.

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About E.M.Smith

A technical managerial sort interested in things from Stonehenge to computer science. My present "hot buttons' are the mythology of Climate Change and ancient metrology; but things change...
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28 Responses to Belgium Dying?

  1. j ferguson says:

    Damn, E.M. you write so much faster than I read. Your punishment is another story.

    Daughter teaches at university in Australia. They have a monthly suggestion contest among the faculty and where possible the best suggestion is accomplished.

    This time it was to have the washroom signs redone with the good advice they typically contain printed in all the languages known to anyone on the faculty. A paper was circulated to pick up the various translations of the usual “Please wash your hands…”

    Daughter knows a number of asian languages including one of the Shan dialects. She also knew that no-one else on campus could read it, so……

    The admonition in Shan: “Don’t crap outside the toilet bowl.”

    The signs were duly made and installed and she forgot the whole thing until this Summer when two Shan speakers showed up at her office to chuckle with her about the sign.

    When we lived in Miami, a neighbor had a sign that said Bad Dog in English and Bad Snake in Spanish.

    The opportunities are endless – so I really do like having what purports to be the same thing in multiple languages.

    Especially motorcycle maintenance manuals, but that’s another story.

    Merry Christmas E.M. and all.

  2. bruce says:

    “Sounds like a ‘feature’ to me ;-)”

    and on that optimistic thought… hope we all enjoy the coming years.

  3. Ian W says:

    The only real reason that Belgium exists is to act as a separation between France and Holland.

    Flanderen the Flemish side wants to be part of Netherlands and Walonie wants to be part of France. The nightmare for each side is that they will be absorbed into the ‘other’ side.

    At the same time – the Belgians are the subject of jokes in mainland Europe that match the Polish jokes in the USA. (“Hey I’ve got a great new Belgian joke!” – “Careful – I am Belgian.” – “It’s OK I’ll tell it slowly..” )

  4. Peter Offenhartz says:

    What about the Swiss? Or the Spaniards? Or the Italians? Each country uses at least three languages.

  5. Adrian Vance says:

    This is a good lesson for us as the Mexicans are re-taking our southwest for Mexico and several million of our liberals say, “It would be fun to be part of Mexico.” You cannot make these people up. They are blithering idiots, have destroyed California, one woman stands between them and Arizona since they got rid of that nitwit Janet Napolitano.

    Free conservative thought, science and humor at: http://adrianvance.blogspot.com “Two Minute Conservative” for radio/tv talk hosts, opinion page editors and dinner table trouble makers. Also on Kindle.

  6. George says:

    Well, it would seem there are three logical answers:

    1. France and Netherlands absorb the parts.

    2. EU creates a “federal district” sort of like Washington DC. and Belgium then belongs to the EU.

    3. The King, as the only common authority recognized by both parties, dissolves the constitution and appoints a “council of ministers” or some such to run the country where he rules until the people can make up their minds and write a new one.

    Each half becoming independent countries doesn’t seem sustainable.

  7. Skeptic says:

    Look to the north for the same mess. The majority of Canadians are held ransom by the minority francophones demanding more and more each year. We allow a federal? political party to exist that has as its sole agenda the breakup of the country. The taxpayers of Canada pay hundreds of millions annually to support bi-lingualism such as product labelling, road signs, the law courts, all federal gov’t functions, etc., etc.. Bi-lingual signs in the francophone province of Quebec however must have the French language larger than English. Although the majority of both cultures do not support seperation the English majority are loosing patience with the seperatists. The growing sentiment is “b*&&#r off”, be French if you want but do it in France. The province of Quebec stays as part of in Canada.

  8. Jason Calley says:

    E.M., it always impresses me what a diversity of interests you have — and what extraordinarily good analysis. Of course, one reason why I think so highly of your analysis is that I so often agree with it! At least the part I can understand… :)

    Speaking of a possible breakup of Belgium, do you remember the hoax from a few years back? http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flemish_Secession_hoax

    Wiki makes it sound rather serious, but my memory of it is that when Flemish independence was announced, most of Belgium just yawned, said it was about time, and went on with their business. No muss, no fuss. I have to make myself remember that the first order of any government — the absolute first, far above anything else — is continuity of government. One expects that any incident that weakens the popular image of how much we all need government, will be subtly massaged over time into showing just the opposite.

    As for a national language, I agree. Like you, I have nothing against other languages or people — de gustibus — but if we desire some level of national unity, an official language is important. Suppose hypothetically, that we had all US legislation issued in four different languages. Anyone who has had the misfortune to deal with law knows that nuance of language can make a big difference. Look at how people argue over the Second Amendment, just in the English version! There is no way to translate all nuance. Language does not provide equivalent mappings. You may emphasis one aspect or another, but something will be lost — and something else will be added. How can we have equal enforcement of the law if your law and mine are not the same?

    By the way, if you are not familiar with Douglas Hofstadter, he wrote an excellent book that deals extensively with the question of translation, Le Ton beau de Marot. Seriously, if you were ever stuck on a desert island, Hofstadter would keep even you thinking hard just to keep up.

    Merry Christmas to you and to yours!

  9. GregO says:

    Chiefio,

    Doggone it you are right; Pravada rocks:

    http://english.pravda.ru/news/society/20-12-2010/116275-shark-0/

    Have a great holiday everyone!!!

  10. W^L+ says:

    There’s another reason why Spanish speakers (and other foreign language speakers) should learn English: employment.

    Unless you work in something government-related, the best and highest-paying jobs still require you to read and write English, not to mention that countries all around the world are teaching their young to speak English.

  11. Pete from Belgium says:

    I am not Belgian but studied and lived there. Here is my view.

    IMHO no reliable figures exist on this country. Government figures are colored by the political agenda and all the Belgian media survive on government grants. So the media tend to follow the official view and tend to be a little Socialist.
    Some Very rough figures: Belgium is a Federal country with 3 States: Flanders & Walloon and Brussels. That implies 3 state governments and the federal one. There are 11 “relevant” Political parties: 6 in Flanders, 5 in Walloon and all 11 compete for votes in Brussels. As a result every government is a coalition of at least 3 parties
    All this for 10-11 million inhabitants: 6 in Flanders, 4 in Walloon and 1 million in Brussels.
    Most Inhabitants in Flanders speak ‘Dutch’ and most Walloons speak French. Brussels is mostly French with an international mix.
    In Flemish schools instruction in French is considered very important. In French language schools Flemish or Dutch are considered irrelevant.
    Ad to that a very generous social security system with lifelong benefits (even unemployment!) …if you can get into the system! Political connections tend to do wonders for access.

    Economy: Every big business is foreign owned! Brussels is mostly big business administrations, governments & EU lobby .Most inhabitants depend on government for income (jobs, contracts & social security benefits). Close to 1/3 inhabitants are immigrants (1 & 2 generations); Socialism and unemployment are very big.

    In addition to international business Walloon is mostly agriculture & very little small local business. A majority of inhabitants depend on government for income), Socialism and unemployment are very big.
    In Flanders beside Int. business there is Agriculture, Harbors & mostly small to very small Local business. Only a minority of inhabitants depends on government for income, Socialism and unemployment are less.

    Income tax is federal: roughly 60% generated by Flanders. Tax spending is federal & state: deficits go to the federal state. Flanders & Walloon have equal say in federal matters so spending tends to be 50/50

    In the June 2010 election a political party in Flanders got 30% (= very big!) on a platform to make every state responsible for their own income & spending. Should this be done, the social welfare in Walloon crumbles! Since the biggest income provider Flanders and the big spender Walloon have equal say in the matter there is no real solution possible. Other than for the election winner to swallow his promise and become irrelevant with probably a very lucrative EU function… In the EU similar problems will get bigger in the future and for its own survival the EU cannot tolerate the precedent of a Belgian divorce.

    In the government sponsored media the language (and race?) issue gets used as a smokescreen.
    Most Inhabitants in Flanders speak ‘Dutch’ and most Walloons speak French. In Flemish schools instruction in French is considered very important. In French language schools Flemish or Dutch are considered irrelevant. Since education tends to color some viewpoints you end up with a language issue.

    Regards,
    Pete from Belgium
    PS: Thanks for the blog!

  12. Stephen Brown says:

    Zambia, where I used to live, has 72 indigenous languages. Everyone agreed a long time ago that it was sensible to have English as the ‘official’ language of the Courts, Government and business.

  13. j ferguson says:

    Literacy in two languages? The experience of one of the major international consumer credit companies (cards) with bilingualism in Miami in the ’80s was not good.

    The assumption was that because of the influx of native Spanish speakers from parts south, Miami might be an excellent location for a business center to handle the firm’s relationships in South America. So they opened an office in Coral Gables and had at it.

    Almost immediately they started getting blunt replies to their correspondence to Argentina. The replies suggested that if the firm took the business seriously perhaps their correspondence might be better crafted by adults rather than the illiterate children they seemed to be using.

    The company was mystified. It was true that their agents were not fully fluent in English but it seemed unimaginable that their Spanish might be shaky.

    They brought down a linguist from New York to review the correspondence which had failed to impress the Argentinians.

    It was terrible.

    It developed that the people who had been employed for this purpose had never really received formal training in written Spanish nor in English either. The reason was an interruption in their educations due to combination of unrest at home and their relocation from home to the US.

    In fact, they were illiterate in two languages.

    The solution was to hire gringos with college level Spanish.

    Understand that the above in no way is intended to reflect badly on any ethnic group’s intelligence or susceptibility to education.

    Having worked with Danes and Dutch during my career, i could see that it was not impossible to achieve fluency in more than one language. I did a project that involved Dutch, Danes, and Germans.

    I asked the Germans what they thought of the Danes’ German and was told that they were pretty good but they could tell they were Danes.

    This might equate to next to the top at our State
    Department: fluent but detectable as a non-native speaker.

    The point made above of the hazard of having our laws enacted or enabled in more than one language is very real. I can’t imagine anyone ever agreeing to it though. Can you.

  14. Peter Dunford says:

    I’m pretty sure I heard 9-12 months ago that Belgium hadn’t had a formal government for about 6 months. I also read that Belgium, not a natural country, was created so Britain and Germany had somewhere to fight, and came in useful twice. It would now appear to have outlived that usefulness.

  15. j ferguson says:

    Peter Dunford,
    How about the Dutch, English and French, and maybe Spanish too? Guys, lets have the thing in Belgium, someone else can clean up afterward. Beginning in the 17th century, maybe earlier.

    Belgium had/has a well developed support system for troops of all nations. Where do you think all their pubs came from?

  16. Pascvaks says:

    Funny, last time I was there everyone I spoke to spoke English.

  17. P.G. Sharrow says:

    Family lore has it, that when the U.S. annexed southern Canada in the 1840s, Great grandpa Sharrow came home one night and told the gathered family that they were now Americans. They would no longer speak French, German or the kings English in his house. That they would only use American from that day on! And so it has been. I guess that as a French Canadian he had had enough as a second rate citizen in his own country or maybe he was just a wise old man. :-) pg

  18. David says:

    Off Topic, E.M. gets a mention and a link at climate audit concerning Hansen adjustments. http://climateaudit.org/2010/12/26/nasa-giss-adjusting-the-adjustments/

  19. Robbo says:

    @ Peter Offenhartz

    What about the Swiss? Or the Spaniards? Or the Italians? Each country uses at least three languages.

    Switzerand – Cantons have a high degree of independence from one another and the system is very democratic so that unresolved tensions get resolved.

    Spain – Also drifting towards seperation of Catalonia at least

    Italy – I’m curious about this example. There are German speakers in the parts of the Tyrol which were annexed from Austria in 1918, but what is the third language ?

  20. Jason Calley says:

    Pete from Belgium says: “Since the biggest income provider Flanders and the big spender Walloon have equal say in the matter there is no real solution possible.”

    A similar situation was one of the sources of major unpleasantness here in the USA 150 years ago…

    Sure hope it turns out better in Belgium!

  21. E.M.Smith says:

    @P.G. Sharrow:

    There was an assertion by my Father-In-Law (he of the 101st Airborne – drill seargent no less…) that in the early days of the USA split from England there had been a vote in the Congress about what language to use.

    Much of the USA were of German extraction (now over 50% have “some” German ancestry, however fractional) and that the vote was for English, but only by ONE vote. That if even ONE person had swapped their vote, we’d have been a German speaking country.

    Some day I’ve got to find a pointer to some evidence for that. I’ve wanted to, but never made it a priority. It has got to be a very interesting footnote to “Americana”… We DID have a vote for a national language at one point, and we ALMOST chose German!

    @Peter Offenhartz:

    I don’t care how many language a country has. I like multiple languages. I care that there be ONE standard that all can depend upon for common use and government mandated services. ONE law. ONE contract set. (And I really don’t care what it is…. Except maybe it ought not to be Law French ;-)

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Law_French

    I’ve struggled my way around Europe and Japan and found it a great enlightenment how lucky we were in the USA that everyone could talk to everyone else. I’ve also, since, had to resort ever more to Spanish just to get things done (as ever more ‘service counters’ are barely functional in English). I’m NOT interested in the Balkanization of the country.

    Also, many of the ‘mixed language’ countries have “issues”. When I was in Quebec, it was almost impossible to get civil treatment from a service person until they realized I was American. (I’d open my mouth to speak French at them – AFTER they had refused to admit any understanding of English – and my accent clearly gave me away as an American… as they would nearly instantly swap over to decent English… Several explained that they could speak Engish well, but refused to do so with British Canadians as a matter of principle…) The stresses this puts into Canadian life are “not good”.

    BTW, I think India is an interesting example. Several hundred languages. These folks:

    http://www.ethnologue.com/show_country.asp?name=in

    say it’s 452 of them. So inadvertently, one of the “gifts” of the British Empire to India has been a common language. Many news papers and most public business is done in English.

    Just to make it clear: I don’t care WHAT the language is. I don’t endorse imposing one by empire. I DO think it is very important for a country to have ONE common language and cultural reference point.

    Otherwise what happens is that things slowly deteriorate and eventually a breakup comes.

    No, it’s not as reliable a thing as the way Socialism starts a long decay (that’s typically about 50 years, but often much shorter, sometimes a bit longer) and some countries can go a couple of hundred years with mixed language groups. Typically as long as one of them is small enough to be dominated by the other… but the stresses remain.

    In a pub in Switzerland I asked a patron about the language being spoken and was told it was Romansch. That the Romansch speakers tended to keep to themselves and that the German and French speakers tended to look down on them as lower class. So I’d stumbled into a working class bar and was having a good time in a “Romansch cultural enclave” inside Zurich. And while they were good natured about it, they clearly knew that the “others” looked down on them. That does not help a culture or a country.

    There is a difference between “survive” and “thrive”.

    Sidebar: Oddly, if it were up to me to pick one, I’d probably pick Interlingua. It is a constructed language designed to be easily learned by folks with a Romance language base (and even English and German have enough similar roots to make it easy to learn). I’ve found I can read it despite having never studied it at all.

    http://www.interlingua.com/
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Interlingua

    As a constructed language it drops a lot of the historical and cultural biases and bigotries. It’s also a bit more regular.

    Or maybe we could really piss everyone off and vote to adopt German again ;-0

    @j ferguson:

    The Mexican home where I spent 1/2 of my growing up years spoke Mexican, not Spanish. My very good friend, Miguel, took Spanish for an “easy grade” and spent endless hours raising his hand to ask “Isn’t it said FOO?” only to be told “No, that’s Mexican, we’re learning Spanish”. I understood. It would be like me learning The Queens English (and perhaps from the 1800’s… )

    So one of the big issues with language is “Which Dialect”? There are some rather strong emotions attached to different dialects. “Texan” for instance is sometimes thought to conveigh a “dumb” meaning to folks from the North East. While “New Englandish” sound affected and snooty to folks down south. Both are wrong, but that’s how it’s heard. (Lord help you the first time you have translate Texan to English ;-)

    @Robbo:

    There is a nice map on this “kids” site:

    http://www.kidseurope.com/Newsletter/LanguagesofItaly.htm

    I couldn’t bring myself to link to the wiki…. but a google of “languages of italy” will bring up more.

    Greek around the southern water. Neapolitans like to think they don’t speak Italian. Some Albanians. Etc.

    But I’d not use Italy as an example of stability. Since W.W.II they’ve had what? One government per 10 months or so? Somewhat less than one year per government last time I’d looked….

    What it looked like about 150 years ago:

    then it gradually got mushed together to make “Italy”. Then 2 world wars happened… Now it’s part of the E.U. and having the “Government du jour issue”. I’d not be surprised to see a return to the older language boundaries over the next 50 years if the EU stays intact. (And if the EU collapses, who knows what will happen to the member countries as they re-jocky on the board…)

    So for Italy at least “Nation” is a “process not a condition”…

  22. j ferguson says:

    E.M.
    Re Illiteracy in two languages.

    It wasn’t entirely a problem of dialect, but of incomplete educations. The Miami Herald’s revelation and the subsequent debate on the problem in Miami confirmed that there was a significant part of the local population who couldn’t generate literate correspondence to anyone’s standard, but as you suggest it was partially a Spanglish issue.

    The message might be that if we’re going to have multiple languages, we’d better be serious about it.

    I, too, had heard about the German/English vote.

  23. E.M.Smith says:

    @j ferguson:

    Oh, yes, I’d gotten that from your first comment. I was just adding a “glue on” that dialect issues also have an impact.

    FWIW I hear about the “illiterate in 2 languages” issue about once a week. My spouse teaches a speacialized kind of special education. I get to offer a shoulder for the venting about how hard it is to just get the kid to count in one language and the parents insist on Spanish (or other language) at home and the kid has 2 languages at school and … The end result is all too often they just shut down and learn nothing in both. Then she gets to try and fix it.

    For all the talk about how great it is to learn your second laguage from an early age: what I’ve observed is that having literacy in ONE language FIRST helps a great deal with all learning. Then, and only then, adding the second language does not slow them down. From everything I’ve seen, the best way to stop a large number of kids from reaching their potential is to do “bilinqual” education instead of “English immersion”.

    Frankly, just from my background I occasionally come out with some Spanglish and don’t particularly always realize it. “I want some salsa verde on my buritto” is perfectly formed Californian English to my ears… Then again, so is “Mocha Grande mit schlag” (from hanging out at the Standford campus coffee house too much at an impressionable age ;-)

    (Or the immersion of your choice. Frankly, I’d rather have “Spanish immersion” with a cutover to English immersion about 8th grade rather than this 1/2 and 1/2 system we have now. I’ve seen lots of kids change “country” and get immersion about that age and do fine with it. I’ve seen a lot of ‘bilingual’ ed kids that can’t get things right in either one. A friend moved to Korea with his kids (military) and they were speaking Korean inside 3 months… Kind of fun visualizing these black/Pilipino mix kids speaking Korean.)

    There’s got to be some way to track down that German / English vote history…

  24. E.M.Smith says:

    Ah, tried “Continental Congress German vote” as search terms and got a very good hit. Looks like it’s a partially substantiated but warped “Urban Legend”.

    http://usa.usembassy.de/germanamericans-language.htm

    There is a popular legend that German almost became the official language of the United States. This notion has been popularized by German authors of travel literature since the 1840s. According to the so-called “Muhlenberg legend,” a vote was taken in the Pennsylvania state parliament sometime in the 1790s on whether German should be the official language. Apparently the Speaker of the House, a German-American by the name of Frederick A. Muhlenberg, cast the decisive vote for English and against German. In reality, this presumed proposition was never brought to the floor and a vote was never taken.

    The historical origin of this legend might have been a failed attempt in Congress in 1794, based on a petition of German residents of Augusta Co., Virginia, to have “a certain proportion” of the laws of the United States printed in German as well as English. A year later, the petition was denied by Congress by a vote of 42 to 41.

    So it was likely a vote for what we have now, multiligual printing of goverment documents and laws…

    Though this site:

    http://www.languagepolicy.net/archives/question.htm

    has an interesting footnote about other things published in multilingual fashion. It confirms the above about an urban legend, adds some things that were in various languages, and notes some discriimination as well (that probably explains why my Dad discouraged me from learning German…)

    On the other hand, the Continental Congress saw nothing wrong with printing its Journals and other official documents in German and in French (hoping to win Québécois support for the Revolution). No patriotic objections were raised against accommodating these politically significant minorities. States were even more likely to cater to minority needs. Before World War I, bilingual education was common in areas where nonanglophone groups enjoyed political clout. During the 19th century, state laws, constitutions, and legislative proceedings appeared in languages as diverse as Welsh, Czech, Norwegian, Spanish, French, and of course, German.

    At other times, Americans have imposed restrictive language policies. California rewrote its state constitution in 1879 to eliminate Spanish language rights. In 1897, Pennsylvania made English proficiency a condition of employment in its coal fields, a none-too-subtle way to exclude Italians and Slavs. Security fears during the World War I era led to unprecedented bans on public use of the German language – in schools, on the street, during religious services, and even on the telephone.

    Now I need to look up that “California Constitution Spanish Language Rights” history …

  25. P.G. Sharrow says:

    Looking up the California Constitution will be fun. Remember that was the Republic of California, Bear Flag and all. Something that still exists. San Francisco is the capitol. The governor is the head of both republic and state. Mexican and Anglos had equal rights in the republic.

    IIRC in 1850 a delegation lead by John Bidwell went to Washington DC and informed the congress that California was joining the Union. Congress agreed.

    The official US history claims that the US won California in the settlement of the Mexican – American war, but California was already an Independent republic as was Texas at that time. The southern parts of Arizona and New Mexico were seded in that treaty.

    The 1879 state constitution was ratified in a nearly equal vote, for and aginist. Former Mexicans were not allowed to vote in that election.

    You could build quite a posting on the history of the creation of the state of California. :-)

  26. Level_Head says:

    Brussels would actually become a third country — their plan is to separate from the other two, with enough land claimed from the surrounding Flanders to make it Flemish again, then apply to become the official capital territory of the European Union.

    It is nominally French now (by dint of Wallonian influx) but the compromise gives them more territory and a more even mixture.

    Too many competing ideas, though; the real end result is anyone’s guess. And the other two would each have to have new capitals in this scheme.

    It would be amusing if this succeeded, and then the EU went out of business depriving the new Land of Brussels of a major revenue source.

    ===|==============/ Level Head

  27. alex verlinden says:

    it’s nice to have some views about my country by others …

    and moreover, no major errors in the exposés, but that’s just my opninion, an opinion among probably lots of others … :-)

    just 2 remarks …

    1. I’m not really following on the 1 country 1 language argument … above, the example of Switzerland has been mentioned … Switzerland scores well in about all the major rankings, economical as well as “well being”, whatever the calculation for that “scientific” variable might be … the majority of Flemish have no problems with the majority of Walloons, and vice versa … there will always be 5 of 10% (semi) xenophobes around, always have and always will … however quite a few Flemish and Walloons have problems with the politians of their own and certainly those of the other language … the question there is mostly, as usual, money …

    2. And the money is, as is the case in about every “old economy” the real problem … Belgium has done more than its fair share of living beyond its means … and part of that was caused by what we call here the “wafelijzerpolitiek”, meaning that if you spend some money north of the language barrier, a comparable amount has to be spent in the south, whether it is necessary or not … John Mauldin had a nice essay last week on “kicking the can” … that is also what has been done here … all the past problems re. a reasonable living together have been massaged with money (most of which was not there and therefore has been lent) and put forward to the next generation of politicians or simply the next generation tout court … A few politicians on the Flemish (since atm they are the financiers) had promised in the past to do something about it, but were then cleaverly (well, you don’t have to be cleaver to have a politician make a U-turn, just give him or promise him a nice post for the next 5 years) put at the helm and forgot everything they said about solving the problem, and just as all the others before them, just added to the problems, by “kicking the can forward” …

    atm, everything seems to come together for some kind of “perfect storm” … way too much debt … slack growth … no more money to massage “solutions” … 30 years of growing more and more apart because of the tiny steps to regionalisation that have been taken before … major problems in social security, pensions … etc. etc.

    it will be interesting, also for me, to see how it all ends …

    in the mean time, don’t lend them any more money … you neither help yourself, nor Belgium … :-)

    PS … thanks for all the hard work on the GISS temperatures, Chiefio … your recent summarizing comments on the WUWT article 1934/1998 are very informative …

  28. E.M.Smith says:

    @Alex Verlinden:

    The “one language” issue is not at all about what folks speak at home, with their friends, watch on TV, whatever. It’s not at all about folks getting along well together. It’s not even about having the majority of the folks in any one state speaking a different language (we’ve had that. Ohio and Pennsylvania were German speaking, Louisianna French). It’s about having the ability to shout “HELP!” and not work through 20 languages until someone responds. It’s about a shared base.

    It’s about the royal pain in the ass it is to have to print materials in 200 languages. (Yes, we do that here. Various things have to be provided in the ‘demanders’ language, whatever it may be…) It’s about the near impossibility of having ONE understandable law when it’s rendered into a dozen different languages. “All translation transforms” is still true. It’s about the frustration of having to pay a fortune extra for “multilingual staffing” at government desks, then as an English speaker walking in and being confronted with such a poor rendition of English as to resort to Spanish for clarification.

    For about 200 years we did “just fine” without it. Most of Ohio, for example, spoke German; but, the law was in English and you expected your graduation exams to be in English so that when you went off to work somewhere you could work with everyone else.

    There are still loads of folks in Louisianna speaking a French dialect. But it’s a heck of a lot easier when everyone understands the sign that says “STOP” means to cease moving…

    What is happening now is that a new load of immigrants are entering America. I’m FINE with that. But they want to have everything in their old languages. And they want me to pay for the costs. And they often have no desire to ever learn English. Worse, we’ve passed laws that empower that behaviour and enable it.

    The result is the Balkanization of America.

    Where before we moved toward a shared set of beliefs, we are now breaking into factions. The Tie That Binds is no longer pulling us slowly together. Instead we are dividing and drifiting into factions.

    So what happens when the guys get through their native language DMV test and get their drivers licence, but can’t read the road signs as they are in English? Yes, that happens.

    If we had, oh, 2 major languages; I expect it could be made workable. But we don’t. We have dozens. Hundreds. Instead of saying “if you want a Northern Laos translator, bring one with you” the law says “The hospital, must provide you a translator on call at all times for all languages in their service area” and that can be all languages period as folks move around.

    Do the Swiss Cantons provide documents in Laotian, Thai, Vietnamese, Chinese, Spanish, Portuguese, and Swahili? And any other requested?

    Can you make a nation out of folks who want to stay isolated from the common culture? Or is everyone just “hotelling” here until a better offer comes along? It changes the character of a nation to have your goal be splintered, fractured, and isolated rather than “From many, one people”.

    The end game, as you observed, is that each “group” tries to get for itself as much money as it can from the public trough. When there is no sense of shared destiny, it becomes a greed driven scramble to rip off the system rather than an altruistic contribution to the common good.

    And again, just to be clear. I’m NOT at all saying folks can’t choose to, for example, speak Spanish at home, at work, or even on TV. That folks can’t conduct their religeous services in Hebrew or Arabic or Greek or Latin (all happen within 10 miles of me). I am only saying that when we go to City Hall, to vote, to file taxes, to drive a car on the common roads with the common signs; then we ought to expect to use a common language. When going to school we ought to expect the FREE education to be provided in the common language. We ought to be picking at least ONE common standard we can all share. And it doesn’t have to be MY language. In fact, for half my ancestors, it was not. They spoke German and Irish. They recognized the advantages of a shared language and adopted English. It’s the “shared” part that’s important…

    So if everybody wants to share Spanish, or French, or Ido, I’m FINE with that. My kin have already changed languages a couple of times over the generations… (As noted above, I’d actually be partial to Interlingua).

    So, can you make a country work with 2 or 4 language groups? Certainly. Especially if one of them is dominant. Can you make it work with 120 languages and none in common? Yes, but it’s a royal inefficient pain the ass to do it. So much so that places like India and some of the African nations have settled on a different common language to bind the country together. We already have that advantage, and I’m just not interested in losing it.

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