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June 29, 2004


Paul Portner

I appreciate SC's mea culpa concerning the factual error, and yet I continue to find it strange. I guess SC hasn't known many non-citizens legally living in this country as friends, colleagues, classmates, or employees, since otherwise he could observe that many of them drive and even ask about where they got their licenses. And if SC doesn't have personal experience with the people in question, this makes me judge his discussion as rather abstract in nature. I believe that talking to actual immigrants is a very good way to learn that their language attitudes don't pose a threat to democratic culture!

I want to add that I regularly read and enjoy semanticcompositions. Even when I disagree, I find it interesting and (usually) well-argued.

Semantic Compositions


Comments much appreciated. Please don't feel any need to hedge about disagreeing; I wouldn't write any of this stuff -- and I especially wouldn't maintain a comments section -- if I wasn't prepared to welcome criticism and disagreement. It always goes down well with a side of praise, though, and I appreciate that.

As for my own experience with immigrants, it's been primarily with classmates, who have been on student visas, or with the people in my neighborhood (roughly half are Chinese immigrants). I have had the experience of taking computer science classes at a large American univeristy where the TAs could communicate fluently with students in various Chinese or Indian dialects, but were completely unable to assist me in English. Recognizing that the circumstances are rather different for people who come here to earn a degree than people who come here to settle down permanently, this sort of experience tends to make one a bit more receptive to Huntington's question of whether or not there's a bifurcation into separate language communities going on.

That said, my motivation in discussing Huntington was to give a perspective on his thought which doesn't simply dismiss his concerns as xenophobic or unserious. I agree that the discussion is somewhat abstract, but it's an unavoidable consequence of dealing with these questions as public policies. I find it hard to disagree with Prof. Nunberg on the interpretation of historical data; in the long run, I believe that American culture is both adequately attractive and flexible enough to accomodate any merely demographic changes. But I also believe that it has been historically healthy for groups like the Bund to be repudiated, and that calls for Hispanics to break off "Aztlan" from the United States need to become as disreputable as calls to do the same with Montana by white racists. Cruz Bustamante wouldn't make that call during the 2003 recall election in California, in part because he believed that it was an acceptable appeal to Hispanic constituents. Many people, myself included, think he guessed wrong on that point, and that it's one of the reasons that he ended up losing so badly. That alone is reason to agree that immigrant attitudes towards language aren't cause for concern, but I come down more on Huntington's side than Nunberg's in wanting to demonstrate a positive commitment in this regard rather than simply waiting out the short-term fluctuations.


In Eugene, OR, in central DMV they will give you questions for the theoretical test in Russian. I mean, if you ask. :) Even people with good English prefer it, because the questions are the same regardless of how many times you take the test, and then, they are the same for all the Russians in Eugene... :(


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