American spoken here
May 24, 2006
By David Eggenschwiler, DAVID EGGENSCHWILER is a professor emeritus of English
If English is the national language, Valley Girls must adapt.
FOLLOWING 27 states, the U.S. Senate has voted to establish English symbolically
as either our "national" or "common and unifying" language. Although about a
third of the Senate voted "no" on the two amendments to the immigration bill,
with some lawmakers calling one measure racist, I say that it does not go far
Which English? we should ask. Just anybody's? I think not.
In the 17th century, the Academie Francaise was established to create a national
language. Was Cardinal Richelieu, who headed it, satisfied merely to declare it
French? That would hardly have befitted the loyal citizens of Louis XIII, let
alone those of the Sun King, who followed him on the throne.
The mission of the academy was first to standardize the language; to bring the
French together under royal rule, especially the pesky Protestant Huguenots,
tainted as they were by their German-Swiss origins and, of course, their
southern French language. Second, the academy was to purify the language; to rid
it of gross variants that suited neither the taste of the court nor the dignity
of les Parisiens.
The success of the project explains why, today, the French refuse to understand
my schoolboy's French and why the English proudly insist on speaking French so
Real Americans don't speak it at all, or any other foreign language for that
matter (except that of computers). A college student of mine irately asked why,
in "Lolita," did Russian-German-French-American Vladimir Nabokov have to use so
many foreign words that she didn't understand. Ignorance is not only bliss but
Although the French have been quite unpopular in the United States because of
their unwillingness to join the "coalition of the willing" in Iraq, we might yet
learn from their glorious past of the politics and aesthetics of language. And
let us also have what John Dryden said that Chaucer had: "a well of English
If we cannot bring back the purity of the 14th century southeast Midland dialect
— the language of Chaucer's court, his government and the Church of England —
let us then have our own pure American English for the cohesion of our realm and
the purity of our vital essences.
Let us have the national, common language of Walter Cronkite and Dan Rather. Let
us proudly speak a pure American English undefiled by Spanglish, Ebonics,Valley
Girl lilts or any dialect spoken south of the Mason-Dixon Line. Let it be an
English spoken inside the Beltway, an English of our leaders, an English to
unify the red states, the blue states and, above all, the white states.
Let's use our pure language to put more unum in the pluribus.
Then let's have someone teach it to our president so that he can lead properly
as the Sun King did. Vive la langue Americain.