America speaks... what language?

by Jason Gross

12 May 2006


Great article in the Guardian about the B.S. patriotism surround the national anthem being sung in Spanish: America is a bilingual nation.  I expect jingoist breast-beating from Dubya but when Eddie Kennedy feels the need to sign on, you have to wonder if he’s been drinking Hilary’s Red kool-aid lately.
Even more than bi-lingual, the U.S. is a multi-lingual nation.  The recent immigration protests were a vivid reminder about the growing hispanic influence in this country.  Also recall that many private schools are now teaching children Chinese- far from preaching cultural sensitivity, this is seen as pragmatism as the adults are convinced that China is going to own this century so we had better learn how to communicate with them.  As an English teacher could tell you, English itself is full of foreign phrases that we use as 2nd nature (i.e. laissez faire, all the govt officials called “czars”) not to mention the fact that the language is also derived from Latin and comes from another foreign country to boot (you know, the one where they call a bathroom “the loo”).  Hell, almost all of our families in the States came over from another country, remember?

(It’s not as if English isn’t creeping into other cultures either- while being adopted as a full-blown way of communication overseas more and more, its idioms are also used within other languages rather than creating a word within that language to describe something.)

And as for the music, the same foreign derivatives apply.  Our pop and folk music come from English and Scottish ballads and their own folk music.  “The Star Spangled Banner” itself is derived from an English tune (“To Anacreon in Heaven”).  As for Spanish versions of SSB, the latest one that caused the uproar isn’t even the first one: as Wikipedia points out, “a Spanish language version of the Star Spangled Banner “La bandera de las estrellas” was commissioned in 1919 per the request of the U.S Department of Education.”  Yep, it was sanctioned and commissioned by the American government.  Also, Wiki reminds us of a little inconsistency in Bush’s criticism: “...on the campaign trail in 1999, Bush would often sing along as the national anthem was sung in Spanish during stops in Hispanic communities.”  Guess, he must have forgotten about that…  As such, this stupid dust-up about the anthem is about denial and ignorance.

Need more proof?  Dig into your wallet and pull out any coin- they all say “E Pluribus Unum” (“out of one, many”) somewhere.  Same with your dollar bill- it even has other weird phrases like “Annuit Coeptis” (“someone has approved our beginnings”) and “Novus Ordo Seclorum” (“a new order for the ages”) there too.  Both of those don’t come from English dance bands but from Roman poet Virgil and they all also appear on the Great Seal of the United States.  Now when is some brave American politician going to come foward and question this foreign intrusion?

In any case, the only versions of the anthem that I’d stand and salute to are Jimi Hendrix’s and Marvin Gaye’s (which he sang at a NBA game in ‘83 and which ought to be officially released).

ADDENDA: Related to this discussion, Telegraph Blogs has a fascinating article about what the language(s) of blogs is now.  Hint: it ain’t all English…

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