Bill Poser at Language Log tips his hat to John McCain for his reasonable stand regarding English as the official language of the United states.
In the Republican debate (6/5/07) Wolf Blitzer posed the following invitation:
If there's someone here who doesn't believe English should be the official language of the United States please speak up right now.
In this debate McCain is the only one out of ten that takes the stance. Blitzer notes that in the Democratic debate only one of the eight candidates thought that English should be the official language.
I'm not sure how to read the chuckling at this prompt. Perhaps the candidates see it as simple baiting. Perhaps they're nervous because they know how controversial the issue is. McCain offers the following.
I think it's fine.
I would like to remind you that we made treaties with Native Americans such as the Navajos in my state, where we respect their sovereignty. And they use their native language in their deliberations. It's not a big deal. But Native Americans are important to me in my state.
Everybody knows that English has to be learned if anyone ever wants to move up the economic ladder. That is obvious. And part of our legislation by the way is a requirement to learn English.
McCain's opening line is ambiguous. What is fine? Not making English the official language? This is one of those yes/no negative 'solicitations' that can make the yes/no answer confusing. But his answer give some assurance that he sees no need to make an official statement about official languages. He seems to understand that language issues will often take care of themselves as organized cultures learn to function harmoniously.
I appreciate that Blitzer does not open the floor to the eager opposing views. Not because the debate should never be allowed--but because the debate isn't part of the topic. Nice way to stick with the interests of the premise.
Relevant comments begin around 3:30 into the video (or around -6:30 in the countdown).
Responding to the ambiguity in McCain's opening, Bill poser writes:
Hmm, that's true. I think that I may have interpreted McCain's first sentence as meaning something like "I think things are fine as they are." but it isn't clear whether that is really what he meant.
Wolf Blitzer then asked "Is there anyone else who stands with Senator McCain specifically on that question?" Later, McCain pointed out that in Arizona, "Spanish was spoken before English was."
McCain in fact has been an outspoken opponent to English-as-official-language for decades; I have in my possession letters back and forth between him and Barry Goldwater where he defends his position from the old man's strong desire to codify federally our one national tongue....