By Michael Davies
Both sides of the Initiative A debate hailed Utah as one of the most multi-lingual states in the nation.
While participant’s in an Initiative A debate on Nov. 2 agreed on the value and importance of Utah’s linguistic resources, English as an official language has turned into a very touchy subject.
Eric Stone, a BYU graduate and one of the founders of Utahns for Official English, visited campus Nov. 2 to debate Dr. Bill Eggington, professor of English language and linguistics, Dr. Ray Graham, professor of linguistics and Scott Ferrin of the BYU Department of Educational Leadership and Foundations.
Ferrin said Initiative A should not even be up for a vote.
The United States was formed on republic principles, not as a direct democracy, Ferrin said.
“We vote for representatives so that they can study and make decisions about issues,” Ferrin said.
In a direct democracy, the fears of the majority will tend to neglect the needs of the minority, Ferrin said.
Proponents of Initiative A are playing on the fears of the local majority. Many English-speaking Utahns are concerned with the recent influx of non-English speakers, Ferrin said.
But elected officials have rejected laws similar to Initiative A because it will not do what it says it will do, Ferrin said.
Ferrin called the referendum known as Initiative A constitutionally offensive. Officials in Utah have overturned at least three bills aimed at declaring English as the official language.
“A national organization with vast funds and paid employees should not be able to start a referendum on an issue that local officials have already rejected,” Ferrin said.
Stone rebutted Ferrin’s remarks and said elected officials tend to be extra cautious with touchy issues.
“We have referendums so that average people can make laws when elected officials will not,” Stone said.
Stone, who graduated from BYU and considers himself a Utahn, said he represents many local citizens in support of the initiative.
“By far the vast majority of Utahn’s polled have been in favor of official English,” Stone said.
Stone said the point of Initiative A is to help minorities learn English.
Without the ability to rely on their native tongue, it will not be as easy for immigrants to form language enclaves, Stone said.
Initiative A proposes taking the money saved by not translating government documents and using it for added English literacy programs, Stone said.
After teaching English as a Second Language for thirty years, Graham said creating a feeling of isolation discourages the ability to learn a language.
Graham said the number one factor in language acquisition theory is the feelings of camaraderie or alienation a person feels with the natives of their new tongue.
Eggington, a native of Australia, said student voters should look to other multi-lingual cities to see how they have faired.
Sydney, he said, embraced the diversity that immigration has brought within the last thirty or forty years.
Utah, and especially Provo, is one of the only places that has the linguistic resources of Sydney, Eggington said.
He said Utahns should embrace the diversity and not limit them to English.