Why is English the main language of the U.S.?

Discussion in 'Linguistics' started by science man, May 2, 2010.

  1. kwhilborn Banned Banned

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  3. Fraggle Rocker Staff Member

    In the 2010 census, one out of eight Americans identified themselves as Hispanic. However, many of them do not speak Spanish fluently, or even at all. It's increasingly common for them to raise their children with no knowledge of Spanish, in order to "fit in."

    This is sad, since being bilingual from birth is a tremendous advantage in learning to think and communicate well, not to mention in learning a third language later in life.

    California, Florida, New Mexico and Texas have huge Hispanic populations and many of their political figures are Hispanic. In California and Florida it's common for them to know Spanish or even to be more-or-less fluent speakers. Less common in the other two states.

    "Hispanic" is the term used in the census, but most of us call them Latinos, or simply "Mexican-Americans," "Cuban-Americans," etc. First-generation immigrants often just call themselves "Mexicans"/mexicanos, "Salvadoreans"/salvadoreños, etc.

    Immigration from Mexico has virtually halted, since Mexico turned itself into a middle-class country in one generation. More people are moving back than are coming here. The people crossing the Southwestern border today are from countries further south such as Guatemala and El Salvador, having undergone incredible risks to cross Mexico (because of the "drug war" that our shit-for-brains government has pushed down into Mexico) and a large percentage of them die in transit. Immigration from Cuba is very close to zero.

    However, the birthrate of the Hispanic population is considerably higher than ours, so their percentage of the population will continue to rise. This is fortunate, since it is they who will be supporting the Ponzi Scheme we refer to as "Social Security."
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  5. Gorlitz Iron Man Registered Senior Member

    Wow Fraggle that seems like a most impassioned response, I almost feel guitly for my post now. Also really informative, cheers, but from a far less informed perspective I was expressing an opinion based on current experiences. It just seems that many of my American friends find older British movies easier to understand, certainly more so than many of the newer ones which seems odd when you consider many modern producers a surely now far more aware of the global market place and the need for mass market appeal. Also this whole idea of using subtitles to help audiances when watching certain British television shows is not something I'd come across until quite recently.

    So I really find what you've been saying about this greater possibility for understanding of all English dialects as something we are all heading towards quite interesting. Certainly the idea of RP being more widely recognised is extremely plausable. You only have to look at employment trends across the UK to see how highly employers here value it over and above the many regional variations when assessing candidates, RP is what we regard as the "Queens English", thus the royal connotations give it such a highly prized sense of status. Generally this seems to be mostly widely spoken in the South of England, yet it is also here perhaps more than anywhere else that the new foreign and cultural influences of imigration are having the biggest impact on changing the way the British language is being both understood and spoken. It would seem that thanks to the new found levels of diversity there is a fusion of languages taking place within our nations capital, meaning that a new type language is emerging that even many of us Brits from outside the capital can sometimes have trouble understanding.

    It just seemed logical to think that the way English is understood around the world would be influenced by further changes in imigration to a point where it becomes so different to that spoken in some other locations as to be virtually different languages. What perhaps seemed less obvious but now much more so since your most helpful explanation was the idea that English speaks across the globe would come together to understand the differences that already exist or may come to exist in the future.

    I also appreciate the sentiment expressed for the US retaining the notion of having English as it's language, it's seems, certainly at least, from your post that there is still a strong desire for a cultural link through language for Americans with the UK. This suggests rather than some type of seperate need or search for identity that many Americans already see themselves as having it with "English" thus forming a strong part of it.
    Certianly again from my British perspective this is an enjoyable thought to consider about our Atlantic Cousins.
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  7. kwhilborn Banned Banned

    @ Fraggle Rocker,

    The Alamo massacre was instrumental in recruiting forces to repel the mexican army / the border. If Mexico had been able to keep its foothold in Texas and other southern states, then obviously English would not be as prevalent in those areas.
  8. The Marquis Only want the best for Nigel Valued Senior Member

    Without that advantage of having a bilingual background, I'm also of the opinion that English also has a wider range of expression than most languages do, in the hands of those with the talent to express it.
    This may be an extension of it being comprised of so many different linguistic backgrounds.

    It isn't only about sentiment, but also about utility.
  9. Fraggle Rocker Staff Member

    Well thanks for the compliment. Bear in mind that I write for a living (although these days it's usually boring stuff like contracts and software manuals), so I try to always communicate at the level I need to maintain at the office.
    Oh don't worry about it. It was well-written and you made your point.
    I find that astounding. During my adolescence in the 1950s, I found the dialog in British movies almost impossible to understand. But when the James Bond movies, TV series like Masterpiece Theatre, and of course Monty Python came into every American home, we were all exposed almost daily to the British standard dialect of English.

    And of course the Beatles, the Rolling Stones and myriad other British rock bands were rapidly establishing a huge presence on the radio. The teenagers and even the older Baby Boomers (the generation born in the 18 years between the end of WWII and the conquest of American politics by their anti-war, anti-religion, anti-racism, pro-feminism, pro-drug, pro-science positions) were young enough to master the understanding of the Queen's English. Your people were doing the same thing with American English. As a result, both dialects have absorbed much of the other's slang and grammar (we know what a "bird" is and you know that a "chick" is the same thing, even though that word is Spanish chica, a girl or a very young woman) and the speakers learned to interpret the major differences in pronunciation. Eventually the phonetic differences were considerably reduced.

    Track down a recording of the Queen speaking early in her rein, and compare it to her current interviews. For a moment you'll be certain that it can't possibly be the same lady.

    Received Pronunciation or "RP" (what we Yanks call "Oxford English" or "BBC English") has changed mightily in the last century, especially the second half.

    The impact of electronic media has had the same effect, although stronger, on regional dialects. Again, in the 1950s I found American Southerners almost impossible to understand. Today I can do a pretty good job of imitating them. There aren't any real dialects of American English anymore--by the definition that dialects have differences in vocabulary and grammar, not just pronunciation; otherwise they're merely accents. Only AAVE (African-American Vernacular English) qualifies as a true dialect, yet 90% of the people who speak it are also completely fluent in Standard American. This would actually make AAVE a cant rather than a dialect: a speech variant used for the purpose of thwarting understanding by outsiders.

    As I understand it, there still are genuine dialects in the British Isles, such as Scottish and "Brummy," but exposure on TV and in movies has made them considerably easier for the speakers to understand each other.
    I wish they were in use in the 1950s, but today very few Americans would need them. They'd have to be older than me, and most people don't live that long.

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    Thanks to electronics! Of course the power of broadcasting cuts both ways. Hitler was the first statesman to recognize the power of radio, and his broadcast speeches, complete with inflections and other nuances, are widely credited for the ease with which he won the hearts and minds of the German people. Before electronics, it was impossible to speak to more than about 1,000 people at one time.
    That's also true in American English. Since before the nation was founded, we had a strong influence from both French- and Spanish-speaking people. You folks obviously also have a lot of French influences (the English language itself was "colonized" by the Normans--everyday words like "face" and "second" are French), but American English is full of Spanish words that probably seem quite foreign to you, such as "buckaroo" for "cowboy," from Spanish vaquero.
    Take India, for example. Every educated citizen can speak and understand Hindi, but because it is the language of the ruling class in the New Delhi region, they do not like to honor it by using it. So when Indians from different regions meet, they speak to each other in English, the language of their conquerors!

    And yes, Indian English is regarded as a distinct dialect, with its own grammar and vocabulary, like British, American/Canadian, and Australia/New Zealand. The differences are largely phonetic, but their grammar is not quite the same as ours, and of course they have quite a list of words that most of us are not familiar with. (I come across very few discussions of South African English so I don't know if it is also considered a separate dialect.)
    It's often said that England is our oldest and closest ally, but in fact France is our oldest (they helped us win our war of independence from your country) and Canada is our closest. As recently as World War I there was considerably animosity toward the British, who, after all, had sided with the Confederates during our Civil War. Many Americans lobbied for entering the war on the German side.

    Somehow, we got over that. Cynics insist that U.S. agents clandestinely gave the Germans the Lusitania's route, so their submarine could torpedo it and arouse anti-German sentiment. The temperance movement was also anti-German, since most of our breweries were founded by German families--Pabst, Schlitz, Coors (Kurz), Miller (Mueller), Yingling (Juengling), etc...

    But in my opinion, the Beatles clinched it.

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    Last edited: Jan 9, 2015
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  10. joepistole Deacon Blues Valued Senior Member

    Actually, the evidence shows the Norse were the first Europeans to discover the Americas.
  11. Jake Arave Ethologist Registered Senior Member

    As far as settlements go, the English were the first ones to attempt colonization of America (With the exception of the Spanish, who failed in the northern hemisphere). The Spanish had a much more successful American conquest, in terms of language spread. The English were the only ones who were able to successfully take over north America, with the French joining in quite a bit later. (through good ol' Canada). My point is that the English had a much larger population consolidated in one particular area - which gave them more influence over everyone else who came to America. Everything after the initial 13 colonies could be seen as marginal because of the nativist ideas of the Anglo-Saxons. (Which probably was a suppressor of any alternative languages)
  12. Fraggle Rocker Staff Member

    Christopher Columbus was the first European to set foot in the Western Hemisphere--see the "asterisk" for the Vikings, below. He did eventually land on Puerto Rico, which is now American territory, so I suppose by your reasoning it would be fair to say that he discovered "America." BTW, "Italy" was not a country yet. Columbus considered himself Genovese.

    I'd wager that a majority of the U.S. population does not know that Puerto Rico is American soil, so don't try to use that reasoning on them.

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    As for the Vikings... yes they did land in what is now Canada and established a few settlements. However, they were not permanent and did not become colonies. The Vikings' reason for coming here was to find resources that did not exist on Greenland, where they had established a more-or-less permanent colony. It's been suggested that even with their Iron Age technology (metal weapons) they were unable to withstand the hostility from the Neolithic Native Americans. They certainly left very little archeological evidence.

    And, of course, Canada is not the United States, so no matter how events actually played out, the Vikings never set foot on the country colloquially known as "America."
  13. Fraggle Rocker Staff Member

    Huh? The Spaniards conquered the Aztecs, who had the most advanced civilization in North America. (Bronze Age technology was discovered by the Olmecs more than 3,000 years ago but they never discovered iron metallurgy.) They ruled Central America all the way up through what is now Mexico. It wasn't until the 18th-19th centuries that rebellions began to weaken their hold on the entire Western Hemisphere. And, of course, the people who rebelled were mestizos who, for the most part, regarded themselves as European colonists rather than members of the native tribes, even though they had DNA from both sources.
  14. Jake Arave Ethologist Registered Senior Member

    You only quoted a fragment, I thought it was to be implied that North America was largely untouched by the Spanish - I never expressly denied their conquering of the Aztecs, but their attempts at creating colonies like those of the English were much more unsuccessful (due to rebellion/internal conflict). Their influence is still very impactful, just not as much as I would say the English were - at least up north any way.
  15. Billy T Use Sugar Cane Alcohol car Fuel Valued Senior Member

    My answer: Because for about 300 years traders speaking English dominated world commerce. If you could speak their language, you might get better deal (or learn what they were saying to each other without them knowing you were following what they thought were private discussions).

    If China's rapid penetration of global trade continues, for 300 years, Mandarin may become as dominate as English, or more dominate by the same mechanism that English did in 300 years, but technology may make it unimportant which you speak. Already (Google, I think) has real time dynamic speech translation code: I speak English and my Chinese supplier hears what I just said in Mandarin.
  16. joepistole Deacon Blues Valued Senior Member

    Except he wasn’t – see asterisk for Norsemen.
    Last time I checked, Canada is on the North American continent. So Norsemen were the first Europeans to discover America as evidenced by the settlements they left behind.
    No one knows how far south the Norse actually went in North America. That is a matter of speculation. Nordic sagas from the period do describe lands further south of known Norse settlements in North America. Given the Nordic sagas and a known Norse settlement was only a few hundred miles from what is today known as The United States, and given Norse proclivities for exploration, it isn’t unreasonable to think the Norse had explored portions of what we now know as The United States, so for you to say with such certainty that Norsemen never set foot in what is now known as The United States is sheer hubris.
    Last time I checked, Norsemen were also Europeans. So that would mean Christopher Columbus wasn’t the first European to set foot in the Western Hemisphere.

    Conventional wisdom has traditionally represented Columbus to be of Genovese origin. But new research indicates he may have been from The Kingdom of Aragon. Frankly, I think the evidence favors Aragon more than Genoa.

    And I would make that bet with you. I would be surprised if most Americans knew Puerto Rico existed.
    We will never know with certitude why Norsemen came to North America, nor will we ever know why they left. But we know they came because of what they left behind.

    At any rate, the question posed in the OP was answered within the first few posts in this thread. The reason Americans speak English is because the English successfully colonized most of North America. And the premise that Columbus was the first European to discover the Americas or what became The United States is clearly wrong.

    Using Puerto Rico to justify the claim Columbus discovered what later became The United States is more than a little stretch since Puerto Rico didn’t become American territory until well after Columbus was dead and buried. It wasn’t until 1898 and after the Spanish-American War that Puerto Rico became American territory. US ownership and control of the Island had nothing to do with Christopher Columbus.
    Last edited: Jan 10, 2015
  17. Fraggle Rocker Staff Member

    In every country on the North American continent south of the USA, as well as the majority of the Caribbean nations, Spanish is the dominant language. Moreover, the majority of the population in that region proudly proclaim their Spanish ancestry, even if it happens to be only a small percentage thereof. I would say that Spain's legacy is hard to gainsay.
    Huh??? The thirteen British colonies with the vast majority of the people of British ancestry in North America overthrew British rule, and then defeated them again 30 years later. I'm not sure how this makes the British any more successful in their colonial machinations than the Spanish, French or Portuguese. Only the Dutch still have their flag flying on territory in the New World, the tiny islands of Aruba, Bonaire and Curaçao. (Hmm... I suppose the British would insist that the Falklands are theirs.

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  18. Fraggle Rocker Staff Member

    I don't know where you live, but in most of the world the name "America" refers to the United States, not the entire continent or the entire hemisphere. The Canadians are very careful to refer to themselves as "North Americans," rather than "Americans."
    I have never read anything insisting that the Vikings came this far south.
    They were explorers. That explains why they came. As for why they left, as I noted, it's been suggested that the Indians did not exactly welcome them warmly. Of course their metal weapons were superior to the Stone Age technology north of the Rio Grande, but without gunpowder they were limited to hand-to-hand combat, and the superior numbers of the native people would probably have held them to a standoff. This would have left the residents of their settlements needing to devote considerable resources to defense.
    It can be argued just as easily and just as fairly that the entire history of the United States has almost nothing to do with him either.

    All of the major powers in Europe participated in the Age of Discovery, and explorers from four countries besides England (France, Holland, Portugal and Russia) established colonies in the Western Hemisphere. Large swaths of the USA were formerly Spanish-speaking regions and still host huge Spanish-speaking populations, but we got them from Mexico, not Spain! We also acquired a lot of territory from France.
  19. Jake Arave Ethologist Registered Senior Member

    I didn't mean success as defined by the English of the time - their colonies failed miserable in their eyes, and in this way they fared no better than the Spanish. I mean to say that the English "Legacy" and nativist ideology that was left behind was far more impactful than the Spanish (In the north). I guess I should have clarified that more.
  20. joepistole Deacon Blues Valued Senior Member

    That wasn’t the issue. The issue was your assertion that Christopher Columbus was the first European in the Western Hemisphere. Since Norsemen were Europeans, and since Norsemen clearly occupied North America hundreds of years before Columbus set sail and North America is in the Western Hemisphere, your assertion that Christopher Columbus was the first European to set foot in the Western Hemisphere was clearly incorrect.
    Well that is true except for Florida. Spain ceded Florida to the United States with the treaty of Adams-Onis in 1819.

    The more interesting question is why the English colonies were successful in North American and the others were not. I think there are probably many reasons. But ultimately, I think the single most important reason is that those other powers became overstretched and unable to support their American colonies. Between fighting each other, and the effort and resources it took to build and support those colonies, colonial powers became stretched too thin and incapable of maintaining, defending and governing their American territorial claims. That is why Spain ceded Florida. That is why France sold its American territory to the US. That is why Russia sold Alaska to the US. And even England was unable to hold onto its American colonies (e.g. American Revolution).
    Last edited: Jan 11, 2015
  21. Fraggle Rocker Staff Member

    I don't see an important difference between the English legacy in northern North America, the Portuguese legacy in Brazil and the Spanish legacy in most of the rest of the New World. The colonies all inherited the legal systems of their respective colonial powers, eventually installing a powerful overlay of (more or less) representative democracy.

    Obviously many of them suffered one or more backslides into autocracy or outright despotism (and of course France tried to conquer Mexico and turn it into a French colony, and one of the reasons the Mexicans love us so much is that the U.S. Army rode to the rescue and kicked the French out), but in the long run the contemporary nations of the Western Hemisphere are reasonable versions of representative democracies.

    Another reason to give them a high-five is that the Latin American nations haven't fought a war in many decades. Well, except for when the British occasionally claim ownership of the Falklands.
  22. Jake Arave Ethologist Registered Senior Member

    Remember, this is in the context of the United States - that's all I'm focusing on.
  23. cosmictraveler Be kind to yourself always. Valued Senior Member

    The rulers of any lands would force their languages upon the populace. So whoever was a ruler at any given time made their language the primary one to use.

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