The Truth, Mainly - 12/04/1995

Official languages not enough; we need official dialect
by Leon Satterfield

The Republican leaders in Congress are Language Weenies.

Oh sure, both Senate Majority Leader Dole and House Speaker Gingrich want to make English official language of the country.

But they're still Language Weenies because they don't have the testicular fortitude to admit (at least in public) that speaking English makes us smarter, purer of heart, more patriotic—closer to the Ideal Americans we set out to be when we came over here in 1620 to displace those Pequots and Algonkians and French and Spanish who were already here and already talking funny.

Dole and Gingrich won't admit (at least in public) that if English is good enough for God, it's surely good enough for the rest of us. "Let there be light," God said. You can bet your boots if He'd said "Que haya luz!" or "Que la lumiere soit!" we'd still be in the dark.

But don't expect Language Weenies to tell us that.

If they really want to do away with language diversity in this country, they've got to get tough. They've got to bite the bullet. They've got to go beyond making English the Official Language.

They've got to declare an Official Dialect of the Official Language.

There are lots of English dialects out there and without Congressional guidance, how can we know which is the right one?

Religionists among us might say "Well, if the King James Dialect is good enough for God, it's surely good enough for the rest of us."

But that would be dumb because it would be bad for the economy. The King James Dialect is full of "thees" and "thous" and "haths" and "hasts" and lots of other funny words that would keep other countries from taking us seriously at international trade conferences.

"Dost thou desireth we buy more Toyotas?" we'd have to say to the Japanese. "Verily then shalt thou buy more Fords, and sayst thou not that the left-hand steering wheel is an abomination against God and a sin against nature. Hearest thou this?"

The Dow Jones would fall off the chart.

Democrats might say that we ought to honor the president by making Little Rock Dialect official. But most people I know would swallow their tongues before they'd say, "Y'all come, now. Y'all hear?"

Inner city African-Americans might find a nice irony in making Black English the Official Dialect: "Bout time homeboys from the hood be recognized. Been dissed too long."

The X generation might prefer some variety of Valley Girl Dialect. It's like totally rad when they go like "Whatcha lookin' at me for, Gramps? You're the one like totally talking funny and stuff. Chill."

Historians might opt for Bostonese, since most of the early English speakers settled within a few miles of Fenway Park. But who in Broken Bow would understand if you asked them to "Pawk the caw"?

The uninitiated—and the Language Weenies—might just throw up their hands and say there's no way to choose an Official Dialect. But I am a highly trained teacher of English so my opinion on this subject is not without merit. (English teachers say "not without merit" a lot. It's part of the American Professoriat Dialect.)

And in the cause of national linguistic purity, I offer my expertise. Here it is:

I've decided that the most sonorous variety of English, the sweetest, most angelic tongue in the country, the dialect best suited for making delicate distinctions in philosophy, poetry, theology, economics, and baseball, is the one spoken in the northwest quadrant of Meade County in the southwest corner of Kansas.

And here's a truly amazing coincidence: That's exactly where I was born and raised, where I learned the words, as it were, to the Music of the Spheres.

Isn't that remarkable?

The epicenter and fountainhead of that beauty was the barbershop in my hometown.

There I learned, for example, that "always" isn't pronounced "all-ways." It's pronounced as one syllable, "oyce." As in "Whenever I need a haircut, I oyce get it here."

There I learned that the double negative is used to convey strong feels of absolute certainty. As in "Don't you take no more hair off that side of my head or I'll look funny."

And I learned that "real" is an adverb when the barber don't want you to move your head no more. As in "You hold your head real still, Bud, or I'm gonna cut off your ear."

Oh sure, Language Weenies in Congress will drag their heels on designating an Official Dialect, but they need to consider the disgracefully permissive alternative: Abandoning the quest to impose our own linguistic heirarchies on others. Letting Americans speak whichever dialect—or even, God forbid, whichever language—works best for them.

Like I oyce say, you gotta be real tough or nobody does nothing right.


Lincoln English Professor Satterfield writes to salvage meaning from his confusion. His column appears on alternate Mondays.

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