Just gotta disagree…in English

You Are Dumb.net is one of my favorite websites because the guy who writes it usually writes stuff that I either totally agree with, or can just laugh at.

He did a good job of this the other day…of making me laugh, that is.  But I almost totally disagree with what he wrote.

He was writing about some Hollywood hack complaining on some website that having to push a number or the pound sign for “English” when listening to an automated phone answering system was a violation of “freedom of speech.”  Well, that is stupid, but Bryan’s focus in commenting on this was a bit narrow.

In this blog I try very, very hard only to criticize people based on the sum total of their behavior, and not what may be isolated incidents.  Yes, some people may be terminally stupid (Sarah Palin comes to mind).  But since I know nothing about the Hollywood hack, I don’t feel qualified to tell you how stupid he actually is.  Yes, the statement was stupid, because our freedom of speech is no more endangered by having to press a digit on a dialing pad than our general freedom is enhanced by having our soldiers in Iraq.

But when it comes to having to press that extra digit for “English,” I actually agree with what the Hollywood hack was probably trying to say when he became incoherently right-wing: it is a pain in the ass, and it’s not something we had to deal with before the last 10 years or so, and there is no good excuse for it.

Why not?  Having automated answering systems available in only 2 languages is discriminatory, for starters.  It discriminates between non-English speakers who speak Spanish and those who speak other languages.  And there are a large number of other languages to choose from.  To keep from discriminating against everybody in the U.S. who does not speak English, not just the largest minority who do not speak English, the automated telephone answering messages would have to be about 20 minutes long (just a wild guess).  Now that’s a waste of time.

It’s actually less discriminatory toward the majority to have the computers answer the phones in English only.  Certainly it saves time, and probably money as well.

It may be even better to have an actual human being answer the phones, but that takes even more time…and even more money if you want a receptionist who speaks 6,800  languages* (and even then, s/he would probably run into a language that was foreign). *http://www.yourdictionary.com/languages.html

Come to think of it, we could have road signs in 6,800 different languages.  Sure, some of them might have to say, (in whatever language) “if you did not immediately see any language you could understand, then stop, back up, and read again.”

Or we could just draw stick people, which is what a lot of signs consist of now.  In the case of the “back up and read it again” sign, the symbol would probably be a big “R”.  But maybe “R” doesn’t stand for “Reverse” in someone’s language.  In that case, we’d need multi-lingual gear-shifts. 

The possibilities are endless.

Seriously — and this is coming from someone who works with the public — multilingualism is vastly overrated.  It does not enhance communication, it hampers it.  This is because you are not only speaking across language barriers, but cultural ones as well.  That is to say, you might be speaking Spanish in your Anglo way, but the person you’re talking to sees only an Anglo in front of him.  Or vice-versa.  It’s like of like playing 6,800 pick-up all day, every day.

A language is one thing that brings a society together.  It’s never worked out very well any other way, even if you feel it “should.”  Focusing on a right-wing factual fracture isn’t going to change it, or them, or anything at all.

To put it quite simply, English is not racist.  Having to choose between English and Spanish while leaving out several thousand other languages, may be.

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