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American spoken here

Isn't it time for Congress to say no to Valley Girl lilts and good ol' boy drawls?

May 24, 2006|David Eggenschwiler | DAVID EGGENSCHWILER is a professor emeritus of English at USC.

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 enough.

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 badly.

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 also patriotism.

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 undefiled."

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.

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