07 December 2005

Follow up to "Give me your tired..."

Otherwise known as Overheard In the Walmart Customer Service Line...

Woman in front of me: You know, if they don't stop soon the whole store will be covered with those instruction signs.
Me: Huh?
Woman in front of me: The ones up there, telling you how to do refunds, they're already in at least one other language, what is that, Spanish?
Me: (after noticing the billboard sized YOU MUST HAVE A RECEIPT sign) Yeah, that's Spanish. I hadn't noticed till you said something, actually.
Woman in front of me: Well, there are a lot of (sic) Mexicans so I guess they have to have Spanish, but what is next? There are a lot of Indians too, so I guess they'll have Indian up there.
Me: (not responding due to the tone I heard in her voice)
Woman in front of me: I mean, this is America. We speak English here. If you are going to come here and live you should learn English so we don't have to re-do all our signs in fifteen different languages.
Me: (still not responding and trying to figure out why she decided to tell me this in the conspiratorial tone that makes me think SHE thinks I'd agree with her)
Woman in front of me: (after finally noticing that I was not responding and very obviously trying not to look mortified at her words) Well, maybe it's just me, but we do speak English in this country.

English...and Spanish...and French...and Hindi...and Cherokee...and Russian...and American Sign Language...but hey, who needs diversity...

21 comments:

AmyMB said...

I don't agree with the woman's patronizing tone and her insinuation that we shouldn't value diversity, but at the same time, if I moved to Mexico to live, I would damn well learn to speak Spanish. If I moved to France, I'd learn to speak French; even though many people in France speak English, I wouldn't expect them to speak it to me. I would expect to have to learn the native language.
I don't think it's akin to asking someone to give up their cultural identity or heritage to expect them to learn the native language of the country in which they are residing, do you?

Nan said...

Well, that actually leads to a discussion of whether or not English is the "native" language of the United States. I hold that it is not.

Also, in response to your question, if you consider the cultural minority in which I work every day, asking someone to learn the "native" language of the US (referring to English) is asking them to give up their cultural identity, so that point is kind of a hot button for me. The native language of the Deaf is NOT English. Deaf Culture depends upon American Sign Language as a unifying point...to expect Deaf people to learn English, in the Deaf Community and to my way of thinking as a member of that community, is to expect them to be like hearing people...which does strip them of their cultural identity and heritage.

I think the problem I have with the woman's tone/message/etc in the Walmart relates to the problem I see in the United States of unbridled arrogance. I can not say that I have visited another country in which I could not understand the language (unless you count Scotland, and I couldn't get enough Gaelic so there! :P), but my friends and family that have tell me that the attitude is different. Of course if I lived in a country that spoke a language that I didn't know, I would work on learning it so that I could get along. It's the arrogance that bothers me...especially in a country where an overwhelming amount of us are the descendants of immigrants.

I think it's very progressive, inclusive, and downright cool that all of our information is put into several languages. I think it's awesome that the United States doesn't have an "official" language.

AmyMB said...

I think it's great that the U.S. is so inclusive, too, and I see nothing wrong with providing signs in different languages.

However, this is straight from Wikipedia:
"The United States does not have an official language at federal level; nevertheless, American English is the first and/or only language of the overwhelming majority of the population and serves as the de facto official language: English is the language used for legislation, regulations, executive orders, treaties, federal court rulings, and all other official pronouncements.
Twenty-seven individual states have adopted English as their official language..."

If you live in the U.S., you should expect to have to learn English in order to effectively communicate outside of your cultural group.

The deaf community is a different ballgame. Being deaf is a physical disability that can affect how one communicates.
There is no physical reason that would prevent a Hispanic person from learning to speak English or a person born in France to learn to speak English or whatever.

And what about this, just to play devil's advocate: what if an American girl is born hearing and then becomes deaf through some type of injury? Would you still say her native language isn't English? Sure it is. That's the language she learned as a child - that makes it her native language. Now, because she entered a different cultural group when she became deaf, she has to learn a new language in order to effectively communicate with the majority of that group.

What's so different from that and a Hispanic person learning English when they move to America?
It doesn't make them any less Hispanic. It just makes them a Hispanic person who can now communicate effectively with the majority of people in the country and not just within their own cultural group.

Besides, if everybody in the U.S. learned the language of every person who lives in this country, you'd be out of a job.
:)

Nan said...

Yeah, you knew I was gonna split hairs, didn't you? :)

Being deaf is indeed a physical disability. Rush Limbaugh is deaf. Being Deaf is a cultural identity that may or may not have anything to do with a hearing impairment. Ask my goddaughter (who is Deaf of Deaf parents) if I'm hearing or Deaf and see what she says. :) She knows I can hear, God knows, because she squeals to get my attention, but to her and to others in the Deaf community, being Deaf doesn't have anything to do with how well you hear.

As for the job thing...if everyone learned to sign, I would whistle a happy tune as I went off to find another job. I'm sure that other foreign language interpreters feel the same way.

The point of my irritation with that woman and the point of my post is, as I said, the growing arrogance in the US and inability to accept that our way is not always the right way. Language, religion, sexual orientation...national origin, culture...all of it is individual and it's my not so humble opinion that I don't have the right to tell anyone to change any of it. While the language thing is a small part, admittedly, it's just one more thing that I see as arrogant about the US. /shrug

eBeth said...

What about visitors to the US? Ones from overseas?

I totally agree with Nan on this one, I think that it's arrogant to ignore diversity. After all - isn't America the great melting pot?

∫ťǾŖŖmłệ said...

well... this is a hot button for me too... only because my job is to try and translate into written English the mostly futile verbal attempts of ESL doctors... so I really strongly agree with amy's comments.

However-- in response to your comment and splitting hairs ... (not to be a smarty pants - its a real question) which is considered your "native language" - the language in which you read the written word (and i say this because the deaf community "reads" hand signs) or is it the language in which you "speak" (again deaf community "speaks" in hand signs or the written word)??

As well as... when i lived in Quebec i spoke no English that was responded to by Quebec natives. They refused to speak to me other than in French... at first conversations were very slow and i had to speak my entire conversations by using my F/E dictionary... and I've not ever been to any other foreign country so this is my only experience to draw from... but how does that differ from what we are requesting from visitors or residents of our country?

Nan said...

You're not being a smarty pants...how ya gonna learn if ya don't ask? hehe

There are many Deaf people who can read written English. I wouldn't call what I do when I talk to my Deaf friends "reading" hand signs. Like when a hearing person says "Listen to this" I would interpret that with the sign for listening at my ear moved around to my eye.

Your "native" language, to me, is the one you're born into...a child that is born deaf has a better chance of learning ASL than English because you have to hear English spoken correctly to be able to learn it correctly.

I think that my issue may be that I don't disagree with English being the unofficial-official language of the United States...but it's not the native language.

Man, I'm splitting hairs left and right today!!

Nan said...

Now I could be wrong, but on the issue of Quebec...I think the attitude there is different than it would be in France or in other French speaking countries because Quebec is within Canada...and isn't there contention between the two?

Again, I never ever said that people shouldn't learn the language of a country in which they are living if it is different than their own language. I just get annoyed with a country that, whether purposefully or not, looks down on those who may not have been born here and may not speak English. That's all. :)

AmyMB said...

I don't look down on anybody who wasn't born in this country solely based on the fact that they're foreign-born. That would make me a racist.
I do expect people who move here from other countries to learn to speak English, because that's the language spoken by the majority of the country and the language in which the official business of the country is conducted.
As for overseas visitors - what about them? If I visit France, I'll be taking a French/English dictionary with me and expecting to have to communicate (or at least try to) in French.
If I visit Mexico, I'll pack a Spanish/English dictionary.
Why should I not expect the same from people visiting the U.S.?

I'm not saying English is a superior language. (it's not actually; Spanish and French make much more sense, grammar-wise) I'm just saying that it is the language spoken by the majority of the country and the language in which the country's official affairs are conducted and therefore if you want to live here, you should be expected to speak it, understand it and read it.

Yes, I've read about the difference between being deaf and identifying oneself with the Deaf culture. One is born deaf. Or Hispanic. Or Asian.
One chooses which culture with which to associate.
I could be Hispanic and not choose to associate myself with the Hispanic culture. Or I could be physically deaf and not choose to associate myself with the Deaf culture. That's just a personal choice.
But it doesn't really have anything to do with the language issue we're discussing.

I mean, Nan, you're not deaf - you choose to associate yourself with the Deaf culture. And even so, you still speak English as your primary language, and you expect most non-deaf people to communicate with you in English.

Where's the arrogance in that? Would you call Mexico arrogant for expecting you to speak Spanish if you moved there? Would you call Germany arrogant for expecting you to speak (or have a rudimentary knowledge of) German if you visited there?
If not, then why the double standard for the U.S.?

AmyMB said...

And speaking of splitting hairs:

Main Entry:
native language
Part of Speech: noun
Definition: the language that a person acquires in earliest childhood; also, the primary language of a community; also called primary language, mother tongue

Italics added by me - from www.dictionary.com
The definition of a "native language" includes "the primary language of a community." By that definition, English is the U.S.'s native language. It might not be your native language, if you were, for example, born deaf and learned ASL from earliest childhood, but that doesn't change the fact that it is the native language of this country.
Make sense?

Nan said...

First of all, Germany is a bad example because most of them speak better English than we do. ;)

I don't choose to identify myself with Deaf culture...they choose to let me into their culture because I follow the rules of their culture. Therefore, I'm just as Deaf as they are. I'm not hearing like you or liz or Dave or my family, and I'm not deaf like they are because I can hear...but I am Deaf, or as you say in ASL, my heart is Deaf.

And I don't expect anyone to communicate with me in any way other than the way that is most comfortable for them. That is the truth. English is my first language, ASL is my second...but how many times have you seen me unable to stop signing even in the presence of people that don't understand that language? I think it's the expectation that comes across as arrogance, and when I was coming into the Deaf Community as a young interpreter I remember being struck by the lack of expectation that I would be able to ever communicate effectively...they took me where I was because I tried, and never asked for more. But that's just my experience.

I think to say that anything I do or believe or way I act is arrogant is indicitive of someone who doesn't know me very well. Surely you don't really think that...

AmyMB said...

Quote: "I don't choose to identify myself with Deaf culture...they choose to let me into their culture because I follow the rules of their culture. Therefore, I'm just as Deaf as they are."

Yes, you do choose it. Any identification with any culture is a personal and conscious choice.
Let's make sure we're aware of definitions here:
Culture: These patterns, traits, and products considered as the expression of a particular community or population

The key word here is "expression."
Expression is a conscious choice.

Let's say I'm a deaf person. However, I choose not to learn ASL, to speak only English, to not associate with other Deaf people, to not use an interpreter and whatnot.
Am I still deaf? Yes.
Am I a member of the Deaf culture? No. Because I chose not to be.

On the flip side, if I, a Caucasian, choose to marry a Hispanic man, speak only Spanish, associate mainly with Hispanics, live in a Hispanic community and attend a Hispanic school - am I Hispanic? Nope. Am I a member of the Hispanic culture? Yes, I am. Because I chose to be a part of that culture and they(hopefully) accepted me.

In other words, there is a huge difference between my RACE (or, in the Deaf person case, DISABILITY) and my CULTURE. I cannot alter my RACE/DISABILITY.
I can alter my CULTURE.

You were not born deaf. You are not physically deaf. You chose to learn sign language, become a sign language interpreter and associate yourself with the Deaf culture.
Whether they allow you into the culture or not is irrelevant; before they could allow you, you had to choose to try to join it.

Make sense?

I don't think anything you do or say is arrogant. I never accused you of arrogance - you are one of the most humble people I know.

I think it's important, though, to this argument to understand the difference between race or disability and culture.
It is not possible to change one's race or disability.
It is possible, however, to keep one's culture while still participating in the culture of the majority - i.e. being a part of the Hispanic culture but still learning how to speak English.

AmyMB said...

"The determination as to one's membership in a particular cultural group is not determined by vote or election to the group by its constituent members, but by individual election to embrace the core values of the group." (emphasis mine)

From wikipedia.com entry on "Deaf Culture."
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Deaf_culture

Nan said...

I'm glad to see that I misunderstood your comment about me being arrogant. :)

I think I took us off the point here, and for that I apologize. The point was that forcing the learning of another language on someone could possibly be akin to forcing them to give up their cultural identity. In my adopted culture, complying with being forced to learn to read and write and speak/lipread English potentially puts you in the outs with the Deaf community. That's just how it is. To me, a Deaf person is not disabled, he or she just uses a different language to communicate.

Keep in mind too that the use of d or D in the word deaf/Deaf is deliberate. I'm not deaf. I can hear just fine. I am, however, Deaf, and very proud of my adopted culture. I guess I don't feel like I chose to learn to sign because I didn't just say "Hey, I want to be part of the Deaf Community, I'll learn ASL." I've been signing since I was a child, so it just seems natural to me.

Heh...almost native...but not quite.

Anyway...back to the point of my post, which was that the woman in Walmart was part of a growing voice in the United States that doesn't seem to want to encourage those that aren't native English speakers to learn English, they want to require it...and they get huffy when people have trouble learning it...at that attitude is my ire directed.

Gah, I'd hate to have to interpret for me...yeesh.

Nan said...

Oh...and I think my posts today are indicative of the fact that I'm living in two houses, have two inpatients with a third on the way, and slept on a sofa last night...but oddly enough, I think that my ASL today was more clear than it's been in awhile...maybe my second language has become my first? LOL

eBeth said...

I think the point of Nan's post was the arrogance of some Americans and how they choose to express their views. I find that when I travel back 'home' I am very sensitive to the attitudes of the Americans around me and with my awareness of other cultures now much stronger than it was when I lived in America -- well, I really don't like what I see.

I find most Americans sadly to be less tolerant and more arrogant than other cultures and the reputation that the Country and its people have for it is really very bad.

Just my £.02.

Nan, I was going to ask if you'd moved yet - when's the big day? And anyone fancy a visit when we're in Atlanta over Christmas?

AmyMB said...

Oh gosh. Some liberals in other countries don't like the U.S. I don't know how I'll sleep at night! :)

Tell 'em to stop trying to move here then, since they think we're so snotty.

I find it amusing how the U.S. is viewed by liberals, both in other countries and here in the U.S., as this evil, arrogant monster, but yet guess who everyone comes to for a hand-out when they get in trouble?

As for the original, I don't want to require anybody to learn English. But neither do I think that U.S. corporations, court systems and governments should be required to learn foreign languages.
If you want to move to the U.S. and not learn English, that's fine.
But don't expect people in this country to bend over backwards to try to learn your language when you can't be bothered to try to learn ours.

And to continue splitting hairs, a member of the Deaf culture may or may not be disabled, but you can't argue that deaf people are disabled and that that's the reason for their different language.
I know, I know - a lot of deaf people don't view themselves as disabled. But if they weren't disabled, then they wouldn't be covered under the ADA, and again, you'd be out of a job with the state.
They can't have it both ways. Either they're not disabled and therefore not entitled to be protected by the ADA or they're disabled and afforded all the benefits that go along with being covered by the ADA.
That sounds like a whole separate issue, but it's not, really. I guess I'm trying to say that I know why the language issue is so near and dear to your heart, Nancy, but the fact is that there are some MAJOR differences between deaf people and foreign-born people when it comes to language, and therefore trying to lump them all in the same category just because they both speak a different language poses some problems.

I certainly don't expect a deaf person to learn to speak or understand English if he or she is physically incapable of doing so due to a disability. And that's why you can't lump them in with foreign-born people - who may not have a disability that physically prevents them from speaking or understanding English.

I'm glad you're getting moved in OK - if you need any help, we'll be around this weekend so let me know.
And Liz, what days are you and yours going to be in Atlanta?

Nan said...

Okay, this is going to be my last comment on this post, mainly because I'm tired of having to access the internet through my laptop till my desktop decides to recognize that it has internet access.

I can say with all certainty that I could not learn another language as easily as I learned ASL when I was 11 years old. I have had 23 years since then for my brain to stop receiving new information! :) Perhaps that is coloring my view.

I want to address a few things though, from the perspective of someone who lives them almost every day because I don't stop being an interpreter or being Deaf at 5pm or on weekends. As far as access to appropriate services, sometimes the ADA works in favor of the Deaf Community and forces those who should be providing access to stop whining about how much it costs and do what they should do. More often than not, however, larger agencies can find loopholes and ways around the ADA, so to me the ADA is a bit of a joke.

I just interpreted recently for someone to apply for federal disability benefits. "What is your disability?" the hearing person says. Before the Deaf person can answer, she adds "I don't mean deafness because that isn't considered a disability that entitles you to benefits." I was thrilled beyond belief to hear that a hearing person thought that. :) Also, the percentage of deaf people that collect disability and don't have any other medical condition is extremely small. The Deaf Community does not view itself as a disability group, and to label yourself thusly and collect disability payments is not in any way the norm. It just doesn't happen.

To not put me and what I do in with other interpreters working in foreign languages is to set back my profession 40 years to when it was just family, friends, and preachers who interpreted for Deaf people. Those of us in the profession have worked hard since then to hold ourselves on par with Spanish, French, Hindi, German, and other interpreters, and in fact have higher ethical standards than most. I happen to work for a social service agency now, but my profession is not a social service profession. We have worked hard to pull ourselves out of that stigma and be recognized as what we are, interpreters that work between two languages and cultures that don't understand each other.

And as I stated before, if one day people learn to communicate with each other to the point that interpreters aren't needed, I will happily go looking for another job. I feel like most foreign language interpreters feel the same way. To be able to communicate with someone without the need of a third person is the best way to communicate...and if it means I have to look for another job, so be it.

I'm not posting this in anger or self righteousness or anything of the sort. Go back to my blogger post that included the Green Day song. So few people get what I do and the Community that has adopted me unless they are a part of it that I don't expect people to understand. But I love what I do and the people I work with, and I get a little momma bear-ish about it from time to time.

AmyMB said...

Understood!
Bear in mind that having a disability and receiving disability benefits are two entirely separate things.
Just because one has a disability doesn't mean one is necessarily prevented from working, nor does it mean that one is entitled to disability benefits.
In fact, I would submit that most people with disabilities are perfectly capable of working in some form or fashion, in which case I agree wholeheartedly with you and with the social service worker who say that deafness is not a disability that qualifies someone for benefits.
But it is a disability that qualifies for inclusion in the ADA and the ADA's provisions for reasonable accommodations in the workplace, which makes deaf people members of a disability group, whether they want to think of themselves that way or not.
And that, I submit to you the Jury, is what differentiates them from people who speak a different language because they were born in a different country.
It does not make them more or less than...it's just different.
The defense rests.

:)

Gracious Light said...

Wow, Nan. YOu're beginning to have a thing for long comment threads.

No use for me to stick my nose in on the end of this conversation but I will :)

I'm of two minds about this. I know how hard it is to learn another language. It would be simpler for me if all the "mexicans" would learn english.

The first time I saw bilingual signs, I got mad.

BUT ITS NOT ABOUT ME.

Liz, you can confirm this, even little british kids (our language's home) learn other languages in school. In addition, look at welsh and gaelic. The Methodist Church publishes are materials in english, welsh, and gaelic. No one seems to mind.

I wish I had the skills to learn languages. Its always been seen as one of the marks of being a well-rounded person. I'm just dumb when it comes to languages.

I think, though, that many folk react to the language thing because of fear of change--kinda like my grandparents and integration.

eBeth said...

"Oh gosh. Some liberals in other countries don't like the U.S. I don't know how I'll sleep at night! :)"

You just proved my point exactly.

#metoo

#nofilter #goodhairday Yep, that hashtag in the title means what you think it means. But that's not what I want to talk about today....