Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Our Common Knowledge

Most of my family's surnames are Germanic; lots of 'man's and 'horsts in there. My father's grandfather, however was English. He came to this country in the mid 1880's already speaking the language of America.

One of my favorite posessions is the auction bill from his 1895 sale. He was selling off the farm by Sauk and moving to the north and east a little. I have a silk-screen of the auction bill on the wall inour spare room. It lists the tools and implements for sale including a state of the art McCormick reaper. The relevance of that bill to today's discussion, of course, is the headline on the bottom half of it.


Attention! The rest of the bill is in German and set in a Very Germanic font. Why would Granpa Fred do that, you ask? Because he knew his customer base. His auction was in late 1895, not yet 50 years after Wisconsin became a state and there were a lot of German speakers along the river by Sauk City and in the bluffs around Baraboo. To get the biggest crowd for his sale Fred had to use the language of business and, at that time, it was as much German as his native English.

When the Wisconsin Constitution was ratified in March of 1848 it was published in English, German and Norwegian so that it could be read and taken to heart by the people here in the state.

I'm not picking a fight about legal vs. illeagal. There are ways to secure our borders and bring some sense to immigration law and solutions will be found. Operation Streamline II is working along the border at Eagle Pass. Now we just need to find the will to make it work along all of the borders.

What I am rambling on about is the "Official Language" foolishness that always pops up alongside that discussion. It makes sense to have a language that the country uses as a base but we have seldom in our history been a one-language country. Making certain that everyone has access to the mechanism of government is part of our heritage and a fine defense tactic on its own.

English and the way we use it change over time. This country has assimilated large groups of people who spoke other languages in the past and will continue to do so in the future. One of the best ways for us to keep English viable is to teach it in strong schools. Another is to use it as a tool rather than as a weapon.

1 comment:

Other Side said...

Grumps, does the history lesson identify whether there were issues from politicians or the electorate over the printing of the constituion in different languages?

I'll bet not like today.

I can't help myself sometimes, but the skin of those ancestors was certainly paler than the skins of the current immigrants that are -- supposedly -- the cause of all the trouble (legal, illegal, migrant, whatever).

By the way, thanks for the birthday greeting!