One nation, many tongues

Speakez-vous franglish, senor? Ou est le bathroom, por favor?
Both these sentences combine English, French and Spanish, a linguistic step further than the franglais, or franglish, polyglot language heard in Canada, or the Spanglish heard as the population of the United States, like it or not, increasingly becomes Latino and bilingual.
Many people get upset about a bilingual, or multilingual, country. They think people who come to this country should speak English. It’s true that citizens need to know the language in order to navigate the system, but the increasing Hispanic population will soon challenge the notion of a unilingual nation.
We could be a unilingual nation in policy. It’s cheaper. Bilinguality demands more government expenditures, because any official document and sign must be printed in both languages. But official policy won’t change human forces. The government can fight illegal immigration, but it can’t stop legal immigrants, or even illegal ones, from speaking Spanish, or any other language they choose to speak.
It amazes me that our melting pot country has stayed unilingual for so long. With all the nationalities that built this country and entered it later, it surprises me that their languages until recently were so readily absorbed into English. The reason lies in the popularity of being American, in the immigrants’ desire to blend in and become Americans. They anglicized their surnames and their Christian names. An ancestor of mine who came from Switzerland named Hans Bichsel, after settling in America, is listed in the census as John Bixler. That’s typical of many names, either changed by the immigrants themselves or by census takers interviewing immigrants who either couldn’t spell or who had such thick accents the census man wrote the spelling that was the best approximation of what he heard. World War I led to even more anglicization as German names were anglicized by the dozen, as in North Canton, Ohio, which before World War I was New Berlin.
Europe is the opposite, where countries the size of small states in the U.S. are bilingual, sometimes multilingual. Switzerland has three official languages — German, French and Italian — and dialects that blend those three. In southern Switzerland, in the canton of Ticino, which borders Italy, Ticinesi are quadrilingual. At home they speak one of about seven Ticinese dialects, the street language is Lombardic, to strangers and in formal situations they speak High Italian, and most Ticinesi are proficient in German and/or Swiss-German. Swiss-French is spoken in the northwest, but it differs little anymore from standard French. High German, or Hochdeutsch, is standard German, and Swiss-German, or Schwyzertütsch, comprising dozens of regional Swiss dialects, is unrecognizable to High German speakers. In France, Alsatian, a dialect blending German and French, is spoken in the province of Alsace, and Franconian is spoken in the province of Lorraine.
I surmise that Europeans, by dint of geography, history and proximity, are more open to multilinguality and more adept at speaking several languages. I’m envious of their proficiency. I’ve always loved the idea of speaking several languages but suffer from living in a unilingual region. I was first inspired with the idea of multilinguality in ninth grade when I read “The Count of Monte Cristo,” and I still aspire to that goal. I took four years of French in high school, but my biggest lack is conversation — I’m much better at written French. I have dabbled off and on in Spanish, German, Italian and Latin, but it’s hard to keep at it. For now I have settled on espagnol because our country is headed that way and because it is spoken in much of the New World. I try to keep at my French, and I have settled for now on speaking a patois, combining English, French and Spanish. I don’t know enough French to easily speak complete sentences, but I think that some is better than none, and I can add words as I have time. I’m doing the same with Spanish, or as I could say in my new dialect, je fais the same avec espagnol.

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