84: National Language

Explain xkcd: It's 'cause you're dumb.
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National Language
She's pretty sharp when provoked.
Title text: She's pretty sharp when provoked.


This comic is about the concept of nativism, which is the view that those who are native to a place should have more rights than immigrants. A frequently expressed view in the US (and in other countries) is that immigrants should learn English, which is the primary language in the United States; usually this comes in response to frustration in dealing with an immigrant who does not speak English or does not speak it well. This can sometimes be frustrating in cases where the person who does not speak or understand English well is working in a service position and you have difficulty communicating with them.

In the comic one character is arrogantly arguing the nativist position. However, the woman next to him interrupts him and says a phrase in the Cherokee language,("Hello, my name is Sarah") which is an Iroquoian language used by the Cherokee Native American people. Although Cherokee seems to be a relatively young culture, it is much more native to America than any European culture. Some Indian cultures reach back millennia.

The woman is therefore effectively suggesting a "what's good for the goose is good for the gander" argument that if the Europeans did not have to learn the Native language, why should current immigrants learn English? She is basically pointing out that even the English speakers are immigrants who did not learn the native language. Or perhaps she is suggesting the old adage: Those who don't learn history are doomed to repeat it, and that immigrants will one day take over the US and English speakers will be displaced like the natives were.


This happened to my friend:

[Men and women are standing in a row]

Man: English should be the national language. These immigrants should have to learn English when they come here.

Woman: Yeah

Man: When you go to live somewhere, you learn the language they speak there. English is the language of the land.

Other Woman: Excuse me, but osio Sarah dawado.

Man: What the hell was that?

Other Woman: Cherokee.

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Any idea what she's saying? 08:37, 24 October 2012 (UTC)

Yes, she's introducing herself: "Hello, my name is Sarah". -- IronyChef (talk) 14:00, 24 October 2012 (UTC)

Is it worth noting that the United States does not actually have an official language, at States-wide level? The United Kingdom has English legislated for, while officially recognises various Celtic languages regionally (equivalent to that Cherokee example that may well be a state/sub-state official lingo?). India has English and Hindi on the relevent official national statutes (as well as many and varied other ones listed regionally, IIRC), so may technically demand English usage more so than the US itself.

(It is somewhat an urban legend that the US was just a hair's-bredth away from adopting German as its official language, but still fun to speculate how that might have affected its alliances for either World War, had it been linguistically more connected to the 'other side', and perhaps having a Special Relationship with the different European power thus affecting what side they'd officially support in 1914/1939.)

It's a convention, of course. But there are any number of communities that (many generations since the original settling event) still maintain their own non-Anglo/non-Native language, internally, as a majority tongue for the community. Albeit to various lesser or even effectively insignificant degrees in the grand scheme of things, compared to the national usage of English. (Somewhat mis-spelt English, of course. ;) 07:09, 24 June 2013 (UTC)

I did this when my Human Geography teacher asked the class if English should be the United States' official language. Best moment of that class. 04:40, 28 October 2013 (UTC)

That kind of illustrates the point, doesn't it? Either assimilate into the natives or beat them. Naturally, the natives would not be happy about the second option. 23:00, 27 January 2014 (UTC)

Yeah! Peepl what wanna go inta me cuntri shuld learn dat wat language we speak and how 2 speak it properlys! 17:37, 23 July 2015 (UTC)

Are you for real?

The official language of Belize is English, and only 42% speak it there. The rest speak Spanish like all the rest of the countries around them. Belize was settled by the English pirates rather than by the Spanish settlers.