Just leave English the hell alone
Those of you who have any propensity to be swayed by evidence-based argument will not be surprised at Robert Lane Greene’s post today at Johnson about what happens to Spanish among immigrant communities.
To sum up, adult Spanish-speaking immigrants learn little or no English, because it’s hard for adults to learn a new language. (That’s why so many native-born Americans, raised without exposure to languages other than English, are hopelessly monoglot.) Immigrants’ children become fluent in English and know some Spanish. The grandchildren speak English and learn little or no Spanish. The language endangered by immigration into the United States is Spanish.
Thus, you might reasonably conclude, those people clamoring about English-only laws and making English our official language are either uninformed or demagogic.
English, by historical accident—British imperial and economic power, succeeded by American imperial* and economic power—has become a worldwide lingua franca and will remain so, like every previous lingua franca, such as Latin or Greek or Aramaic, so long as people find it useful. But its status as a lingua franca cannot be established or protected by statute.
In fact, it cannot be regulated at all. Lexicographers have long since given up on efforts to legislate meanings and usages, a task that the first great lexicographer in English, Samuel Johnson, ruefully admitted at the completion of his great dictionary was hopeless.
Neither will the fatuous campaign of the Queen’s English Society to set up a royal academy to regulate English and purge it of impurities (chiefly American), the latest in a series of stillborn proposals over the past three centuries, amount to anything. And even if a monarch or Parliament were dotty enough to enact such a proposal, the academy would be impotent, a ridiculous assembly of self-regarding impotentates issuing universally ignored edicts.
If you are sensible, you will follow Candide’s suggestion and cultivate your own garden. You can look to the models of writing and speaking that you admire and imitate them. You can consult dictionaries and usage manuals and weigh their findings against your own sense of where the language is and what is appropriate for your own occasions and audiences. If you instruct the young, you can lead them toward evidence-based judgments instead of shibboleths and superstitions and class prejudices.
Yes, it is your language. But you don’t own it. Just leave English the hell alone. It can fend for itself.
*You don’t think the United States is an imperial power? Do you have any idea how many regiments we have stationed outside our borders?