This is America. Speak. English.

The entitled and upsetting practice of linguistic racism is an epidemic of hate



Ridiculing immigrants for speaking “broken” English is blatant hypocrisy and upside-down representation of American freedom

For over a decade a sign reading, “This is America, When ordering speak English,” was proudly posted in front of one of America’s favorite Philadelphia fast food joints, Geno’s steaks. The bold text sat right in front of a picture of our great symbol of American freedom, the bald eagle. The hypocrisy of that sign and signs like it display a double standard for dialect in our country. 

Their diction is deemed broken because they try, not because they are too lazy to learn.

It is an epidemic of hate falling under the term “linguistic racism.” 

To many Americans, the word, “Broken” comes to mind when referring to the English spoken by immigrants. What makes it broken? Something is broken when it has been fractured or damaged, not when it was never whole to start with. Their diction is deemed broken because they try, not because they are too lazy to learn. English, quite like its speakers, is full of contradictions.  Non-native speakers are by no means broken, they are just not born with the privilege of location in the northern part of “America”. 

Here lies a blatant hypocrisy. In a country where monolingualism is the standard, native English speakers’ attempts at learning a new language are never deemed as “broken.” Their lack of intelligence never comes into question, it is just the opposite. We are not a country built on monolingualism, we are a melting pot. How can we consider one case a sign of “stupidity” and “disrespect,” whereas the other is a sign of “intelligence” and “culturedness?”  It is all due to linguistic racism. 

According to Peter De Costa, an associate professor in the department of linguistics at Michigan State University, linguistic racism is usually perpetrated by white English speakers against those they view as inferior due to their language or accent. These perpetrators have come to view speakers of other languages as unintelligent and mockable. These acts of not-so-subtle torment trickle into the lives of so many English- learners. They isolate those with accents and imperfect grammar, telling them that to make it in America, assimilation is the only key.

My mother was one of the lucky immigrants who got the chance to “make it in America.” When she got her first teaching job in the US as an ESL teacher, she was greeted with turned backs. She was an immigrant teaching the other immigrants. Her colleagues would question her on the reasoning behind educating a group of students that would “never achieve anything.” They suggested that she hand out Mcdonald’s applications rather than math worksheets, all because they spoke with accents.

If we cannot accept those who do not assimilate at light speed, what does that say about our great bald eagle? What does that say about true American freedom? A world in which one is portrayed as “less than” for attempting to learn, is a world that has no right to call itself free.