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
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
> 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
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