Friday, June 24, 2005
Here is an interesting article on the mix of English and Russian spoken by Russian immigrants in New York and beyond. Apparently some people estimate that 130 million people speak Runglish (although the author of the article disputes the claim), which consists of a combination of Russian grammar and pronunciation with English words. Like with Spanglish, there is a debate on the merits of immigrants straddling the line between English and their native language. It is interesting that the Tower of Babel is mentioned - I happened to come across an anti-immigrant blog the other day and many of the negative reactions to a New York City Council bill calling for city business to be translated into other languages pointed to the Tower of Babel as a reason for forcing immigrants to speak English (as did the New York Sun in this tolerant piece that claimed that most people in New York that speak Spanish are not citizens). As with many of the arguments from the anti-immigrant wing, I think many English-language-only proponents are motivated by fear of the unknown. As this article and Ilan Stavan's wonderful book "Spanglish: The Making of a New American Language" argue, languages (even English) are dynamic and are constantly borrowing from other languages and cultures. Speaking English will always be important for immigrants in this country to get ahead and won't cease to be no matter how many immigrants arrive because their kids are learning English (and, as I have argued in previous posts, they are doing their best to learn), but the fact that "languages" like Spanglish and Runglish are thriving shows how xenophobes may be losing the battle.