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CHAT: The EU expands (was Re: THEORY/CHAT: Talmy, Jackendoff

From:Thomas R. Wier <trwier@...>
Date:Monday, May 3, 2004, 7:51
> French and English in Louisiana. Hawaiian and English in Hawaii. Spanish > and English in I don't remember which state for sure, California? Does > that mean that English and the other official language must be spoken > by the officials in those states?
Generally not. It means (in all the states that I am aware have them) that all official documents must be available in all of the official languages of that state. But in practice most states without any official language will print all official documents in many languages anyways. This varies from state to state. In some states, all official documentation is highly centralized; in others, the decision to publish documentation is left to the counties or other local adminstrative unit.
> Or that in the administrations there must be bilingual persons > permanently?
In practice, yes; in principle, I'm pretty sure nowhere is this the case. In the Southwest, there are tens of millions of Spanish speakers, and in some regions few or virtually no English speakers. For example, for most of the length of the Rio Grande, 70-95% of the population speaks Spanish at home. In these cases, it is simply a matter recruiting from the local population, which is not difficult.
> Are laws discussed in English only or in the other language too?
Usually not at the State level, but very frequently at the local level. Many states grant extensive autonomy to Counties, which may themselves establish official languages.
> Can you sign a contract or sell your house in any-one of the > official languages?
I am not a lawyer, but I would assume that according to the Common Law, contracts will be binding in whatever language they're written. I know that in Texas, the state constitution specifically details how legal agreements contracted under Spanish royal and Mexican rule were to be handled, and these were presumably all written in Spanish.
> In one word, what does that mean in the everyday life?
The United States is an immensely diverse place legally, considerably more so than most European nations, and so it is difficult to give any more than vague generalizations in most cases. One such important generalization that I have not mentioned is that there is no tradition of linking language and nationalism, as in France and elsewhere. People simply adopted whatever language seemed needed on an ad hoc basis. This is perhaps to be seen as an extension of the Common Law system we received from England, where precedent can have the force of law without having ever been written down. Common Law systems are in many ways more flexible than countries operating under Roman Law. (Even here, one cannot completely generalize: to this day, Louisiana's law code is based on the Napoleonic Code, where precedent has no formal place.) ========================================================================= Thomas Wier "I find it useful to meet my subjects personally, Dept. of Linguistics because our secret police don't get it right University of Chicago half the time." -- octogenarian Sheikh Zayed of 1010 E. 59th Street Abu Dhabi, to a French reporter. Chicago, IL 60637