Sen. Hayakawa's Speech
On August 13, 1982, Sen. S.I. Hayakawa of California introduced an amendment to immigration legislation (S. 2222) in support of English as the official language of the United States.
Hayakawa's amendment stated:
Speaking in favor of his proposal, Hayakawa said,
"Language is a unifying instrument which binds people together. When people speak one language they become as one, they become a society.
"In the Book of Genesis, it says when the Lord saw that mankind spoke one universal language, He said, "Behold, they are one people, and they all have the same language * * * and nothing which they propose to do will be impossible for them."
"If you will recall the Bible story, God destroyed this power by giving mankind many languages rather than the one. So you had proliferation of language breaking up human pride and, therefore, human power.
"But there are more recent political lessons to be drawn on the subject of language when you think that right here in this U.S. Senate and the Congress we have descendants of speakers of at least 250 to 350 languages. If you go back to the grandparents of just the Members of Congress, you have speakers of, I would say, at least 350 languages. But we meet here as speakers of one language. We may disagree when we argue, but at least we understand each other when we argue. Because we can argue with each other, we can also come to agreements and we can create societies. That is how societies work.
"Take in contrast to this the situation in, for example, Belgium, where a small country is sharply divided because half of the population speaks French and the other half Flemish. Those who speak Flemish do not like the people who speak French and those who speak French do not want to speak Flemish.
"Think of Canada, just to the north of us, where the French-speaking people feel paranoid about the fact that they are a minority and feel that they are being picked upon and abused by the English-speaking majority.
"Think about Ceylon, right now, of course, known as Sri Lanka. Sri Lanka is sharply divided right to this day because the speakers of Sinhalese, which is the language of Sri Lanka, and the speakers of Tamil, which as the language of India. A number of people moved from India into Sri Lanka, and they created a language bloc thus the two are fighting each other.
"Think of the recent history of India. Between 1957 and 1968, something like 1 million were killed in what were essentially language riots. They were riots about other things as well, about cultural difference, but essentially those cultural difference could not be resolved because there were a hundred languages dividing those people. So they could not understand each other and they could not come to the resolutions we arrive at daily in a Chamber like this or in the House of Representatives.
"So, Mr. President, the fact that we have a common language, one language, is one of the most important things we have tying us together. Now we live in a time of unprecedented immigration. Not only speakers of Spanish, but speakers of Cantonese, speakers of Thai, speakers of Vietnamese, speakers of a variety of European languages, speakers of Mandarin – they are coming from all over the world and joining us in our society.
"From the Philippines, we have speakers of Tagalog and other Filipino languages. Somehow or other, within a generation or two, we have to get them all together, talking to each other, electing each other to city councils, doing business with each other, buying and selling from each other, creating governments, creating societies. We can only have this unified society if we ultimately agree on a common language.
"This is not to say Mr. President, that I oppose the study of other languages. We are very backward as a nation in our study of other languages. I think more of us should study Spanish. I am very proud of the fact that two of my children speak Spanish very well. I do not. One of them speaks Japanese. I do not.
"I have told my students for many, many years, in the coming world that they will grow up in, certain languages are going to be important in world history that they will have to know. They ought to choose, as we go into the 21st century, at least one of these languages – Spanish, Russian, Chinese, Japanese, or Arabic. There are very few of my students who ever bothered studying any one of these languages. We are very poor at languages because we are linguistically provincial. Nothing I say in this amendment encouraging the use of an official language in the United States is intended to discourage the study of all languages around the world so we, in business and diplomacy, will be better represented around the world.
"Mr. President, when you think there are 20,000 Japanese businessmen in New York speaking English and about 2,000 American businessmen in Tokyo not able to speak Japanese, you can see why there is a trade imbalance between Japan and the United States. I say in all seriousness, we ought to be linguistically more sophisticated than we are. At the same time, I believe we should unite as speakers of English insofar as we have a society in common.
"Mr. President, the United States, a land of immigrants from every corner of the world, has been strengthened and unified because its newcomers have historically chosen ultimately to forgo their native language for the English language. We have all benefited from the sharing of ideas, of cultures and beliefs, made possible by a common language. We have all enriched each other.
"The Italians are better for having lived next door to the Jews; the Jews are better for having socialized with the Chinese; the Chinese are better for having mixed with the Italians, and so on. All around, we are better Americans because we have all melded our cultures together into this wonderful cultural symphony which is the United States of America.
"There are those who want separatism, who want bilingual balance, who want bilingual education. I am all in favor of bilingual education only insofar as it accelerates the learning of English. I do not believe that the taxpayer should be taxed to promote an enclave of speakers of Yiddish, speakers of Japanese, speakers of Spanish, speakers of Bulgarian, speakers of Russian, of Tibetan, or any other language. Essentially, the taxpayers’ responsibility is to see it that we all speak English together no matter where we come from. That cultural unity which we ultimately achieve – that is the United States.
"If you think of the culture that we have, you think, as I said a little earlier, of the melding of cultures right here in Congress. You look at the lineup of any American professional baseball team or football team. You see all foreign names there, all English-speaking, all managing to get along, and you see what a miracle this is. The wonderful thing about the United States is that kind of cultural intermixing, that cultural melding, is possible.
"When you go to other parts of the world, you find to your amazement that China is full of Chinese; that Russia is full of Russians and practically nobody else. Italy is full of Italians and Korea is full of Koreans, and so on around the world. But we are full of people from all parts of the world having learned one language and ultimately having learned to get along with each other to create institutions of a multiracial, multicultural democratic society.
"Mr. President, that is what I want to preserve when I say I want an amendment that says the English language shall be the official language of the United States.
"I thank the Chair."
A vote on the issue was taken on August 17, 1982. The Senators supported the amendment by better than a 3-to-1 margin, with the final result being 78 ayes and 21 nays. The results of the roll call vote are listed below: