July 24, 2006

Two languages short of bilingual

OK, I'm not quite so speechless anymore after reading Bill Poser and Mark Liberman on the Bogota iced coffee ad shock horror scandal probe. Apostrophe use in English is tough, I admit that; learning it takes a bit of work. But public servants speaking out on language issues — especially those who think that Spanish-speaking immigrants have a duty to learn English before turning up for work at the factory or the farm — should be the first to tackle that work. How about a campaign to ensure that politicians who try and soak up right-wing and anti-immigrant votes by participating in language bigotry should at least get their apostrophe placements right? ‘E-Mail me,’ says Mayor Steve Lonegan, the man organizing a McDonald's boycott (or "McDonalds boycott" as he would say) in his "Mayors Message": ‘Email me at mayor@bogotaonline.org’. So let's do that (or "lets do that", as the Mayor would say). Let's all email him with a brief summary of the rules for use of the apostrophe in genitive singulars and genitive plurals. And perhaps subject-verb agreement as well; Fernando Pereira (a Portuguese-speaking immigrant, but he works hard and learned English before turning up to work at the University of Pennsylvania) has pointed out to me that the Star-Ledger story quotes Lonegan as saying: ‘The true things that bind us together as neighbors and community is our belief in the American flag and our common language.’ This man needs language assistance. Especially given his job. Being monolingually literate in Standard English is the normal baseline for politicians. Lonegan falls below this; he's two languages short of being bilingual.

As Mark Liberman reminds me, our president's stirring words should be our guide here:

We need to challenge the soft bigotry of low expectations. If you have low expectations, you're going to get lousy results. [Applause.] We must not tolerate a system that gives up on people."

Language Log does not give up on people. Not even politicians. Our credo is no politician left behind.

Posted by Geoffrey K. Pullum at July 24, 2006 10:08 AM