The US does not recognize an official language, nor do immigrants have to promise to learn English when pledging their oath of allegiance. However, a poll conducted a couple of years ago revealed that 84% of Americans are in support of making English the official language.
The state of California, usually a bastion of liberal thinking (legalized medicinal marijuana, domestic partnership bill, strict environmental laws, etc), made English the official language of the state several years ago, but you wouldn’t know it if you ever visit Southern California – practically everything is in Espanol. But that might change if Arnold Schwarzenegger gets elected governor, which is highly likely at this point. He doesn’t appear to be very minority-friendly.
I think incorporating the promise to learn the country's language into the citizenship pledge ties into what are perhaps nationalistic feelings, but also a desire to "protect" the culture of a country. This notion of protection is vague and I'm sure many would take issue with it, but a good example of this would be the EU, which sees language and cultural preservation as an important issue.
While I can't be positive (perhaps Hythloday can give us some more background on this issue, it is pretty interesting), I'd guess that those in favor of such legislation in England are concerned with the importance of the English language to its citizenry. The English language is part of what makes England England. This may operate to a lesser extent in the U.S. given immigration etc., but I still think the same principle applies. Language is a big part of a nation's culture and it means a lot to a great many people.
In England, it appears to be mostly right-wingers and people who have a limited knowledge of linguistics who are in favour of testing the English language skills of immigrants. Left-wingers (quite rightly, in my estimation) tend to see it as an infringement of civil liberties. There are large communities of non-English speakers all over Britain who have been able to get by quite nicely without having to learn a word of English, so why should anybody else have to learn it? There are also many other questions which people have raised. To what level of proficiency are people to be tested? What form of British English are people to be tested on? British linguists and educationalists are undecided about what exactly standard British English is, so how can people be tested on it? If every person who is already a British citizen was tested on their knowledge of standard British English, moreover, around 80% would probably fail. (Recent sociolinguistic guestimates of the total number of standard British English speakers range from around 10% to 30%.) So, why should immigrants be proficient in a form of the English language which relatively few people use? Wouldn't this put them at a disadvantage?
On the subject of the US, if the US has no official language, then what can you do to stop a language such as Spanish becoming more widely spoken than English? Very little, I should imagine. Language has the uncanny knack of doing whatever it wants to do, and nobody can realistically doubt the current resurgence of Spanish speakers in the US. The French set up the Academie Francais to stop English loan words, but failed, so what can the US government do to stop Spanish overtaking English? About as much I can do to stop people using the word 'American' to refer only to citizens of the US. Diddly squat.
I do not think that Arnold is going to get elected from the press that has been going round. I think Davis will win, and if he does not, Bustamonte will probably take it.
Personally, I was hoping that a recall would not happen because I thought the best thing for California would be just to drop the issue, but Davis has done some pretty stupid things (like raise car taxes 300% and impose so many extra state-run tests for the schools) that I would really like to see him go.
Also, Davis does not deserve all of the blame; thanks to our President, Davis is getting a lot of gruff that he should not get. Still, I think Davis is an idiot, and should get the heck out of politics!
As for the language of the United States, I think that it will always be English, no matter what. Too many people learn English as their means of communication for it to change to Spanish (or any other language). I mean, the Hispanic population might be huge, but there are a lot of immigrants who come to America on the East Coast, where English is predominant. Plus, the government's language is English. I cannot see a bunch of Spanish-speaking congresmen and women voluntarily switching over to Spanish.
If Spanish does take over, it will take a very long time, and even then English will still probably remain the language of power and officialdom.
I'm not alarmed by the idea of a majority of the people speaking Spanish in the United States. If that's what happens, then so be it. I don't think there's as strong of an idea in this country in the UK that English must be the language spoken by a vast majority of people. Most customer service jobs are already advertised as "bilingual preferred." There's an attitude in the US that the customer is always right, and if the customer speaks Spanish rather than English, then hardly anybody is going to demand that he/she speaks English in order for us to accept their money.
Getting back to the original topic, what do US citizens call standard US English? Is General American a widely used term, and what are the general attitudes towards non-standard varieties of US English?
Most Americans probably think the English they speak is standard U.S. English.
Non standard English is something they recognize as "different" like African-American English, Southern English (especially Appalachian English), or the English of non-native speakers. This is part of the feel of the whole country...just like the idea that most Americans think they are middle class.
There is academic U.S. English (and this is usually seen as writing and not spoken English) but I suspect the general feeling is that academic U.S. English is almost too perfect, too advanced, something. High-falutin. Not to be trusted. But I'll be the first to tell you that my opinions come from a lower-middle class blue collar urban perspective.
Standard American English is the Mid West accent. It is very close, if not the exact same, as the Californian accent. If yu listen to your average Californian, and then listen to a newscastr from CNN in New York, the two accents will be very similar to the point where at first one would think they are the same.
But Standard American English is more of a written thing. I mean, there is a standard grammar that is to be followed, standard spelling, etc; and it differes slightly from the other Englishes of the world.
I suppose one could say the Midwestern accent is standard, but I don't think you hear newscasters pronouncing "cot" and "caught" the same or "merry," marry," and "Mary" the same. I could be wrong, but I think they usually pronounce them all differently as we do here in the Northeast. I've heard some say that a neutral northeastern accent is actually standard American pronunciation.
Is it true that they speak like Shakespeare in the Appalachians?
No, but it is said that the way the talk in the Appalachians is like that of Elizabethan English.
Hythloday, do you think that only English people are the rightful "owners" of the English language? I do not think so because my native language is English. If I had been adopted, I would not know what my ancestry was, but I would know that my native language is English, and therefore, it is my language, just like any other native English-speaker.
Or, we can look at this in a different way. Over 3/4 of my ancestors were from England (and I still have family there). So, English is the language of the majority of my ancestors. Even though I am American, English is my ancestral language. Am I then, a rightful "owner" of the English language?
And what about the Anglo-Australians and Anglo-Canadians? They are just as English as English people!?!
I don't think ancestry has anything to do with being an "owner" of a language. One's ancestry might spark an interest to study a particular language, but ultimately we're all native speakers of one language or another.
The English people can rightfully claim that the English language has its origins in their country and among their people. This is an indisputable fact. However, as languages moved to the New World and elsewhere, they did undergo some changes...expressions, terminology, accent, etc. This holds true for English, Spanish, and Portuguese, these being the three predominant languages in the Americas.
No one owns a language. I don't think we can think about a language in terms of property and ownership. Language is a major part of culture, but ultimately it's a means of communication between people. It's the cultural aspect of language that people are attached to as a nation, not the communicational side. English belongs just as much to the people of Canada, the U.S., Australia, New Zealand etc. as it does to the people of England. What is true, however, is that all English speaking countries have traces of British culture in them (government, customs, etc.) because of the inseparable cultural traits embedded in language.
Neither do I. I just read one of Hythlodays' posts and I was under the impression this is what he tought.