November 01, 2005

Linguistics Required for British Citizenship

The Daily Telegraph reports that the new test required of applicants for British citizenship requires knowledge of where the different dialects of British English are spoken. The new test emphasizes topics considered of practical importance for living in Britain. Home Minister Tony McNulty is quoted as saying:

This is not a test of someone's ability to be British or a test of their Britishness.. It is a test of their preparedness to become citizens, in keeping with the language requirement as well. It is about looking forward, rather than an assessment of their ability to understand history.

It is interesting, and I suppose encouraging, that understanding of regional dialect variation should be considered of practical use, along with the role of the monarchy and the Church of England, but I must say that I find the Minister's attitude toward history incomprehensible. Some understanding of a country's history is important to an understanding of why things are as they are, why people have certain attitudes, what values are important, and why some changes will be strongly resisted.

I am not British and have no stake in British immigration policy, but this test seems to me to be more suitable for applicants for long-term residence in Britain than for citizenship. Given the problems that Britain as well as a number of other countries have with immigrants who do not understand or do not appreciate the political system and values of the country to which they have immigrated, I am surprised that the government is not moving in the direction of requiring of immigrants a greater understanding of and appreciation for the system and its values. Mr. McNulty's view of citizenship seems to me to be rather debased.

Posted by Bill Poser at November 1, 2005 02:59 PM