Tuesday, March 13, 2012

¿Habla Usted Nederlandisch?

A while back I saw a bumper sticker somewhere that had an American flag on it and said Why should I have to press 1 for English? Well, we know what that person’s hot-button issue is, now don’t we?

I’ll admit that I’m a little annoyed with seeing both Spanish as well as English on the coupons I circle for my daughter to cut from the Sunday newspaper, but that’s not because I have anything against bilingualism. It’s because trying to fit the same thing in two languages on one standard-sized coupon forces them to use really tiny type that I can barely make out. In fact, I’m betting that middle-aged Hispanics are complaining that the print is “mas pequeño.”

But aside from that, I’m not one of those English Firsters who get all bent out of shape when they see Spanish “encroaching” on our All-American culture. Far from it. In fact, I’d like to find the person with the bumper sticker, as well as the person who printed the lot of them, and ask them both a very simple question:
¿Habla Usted Nederlandisch?
Now, in case you haven’t been able to figure that out, that’s bad Spanish for “Do you speak Dutch?” For, you see, Dutch was the language of the 1614 New Netherland settlements that eventually became New York, New Jersey, Delaware, and Connecticut when the English sailed into New Amsterdam and took them over without firing a shot in 1664. So one could argue that all signs in New York City, and a large portion of the Northeast, should be in Dutch, rather than the English that came with the “encroachers.”

I can see, however, that those of you who paid close attention to your American History are saying, “Now wait just a minute. Jamestown was settled by the English in 1607, which means that we beat the Dutch to North America by seven years.” And you’re probably using that as the basis to say that it makes perfect sense for English to win out in the “language wars.” And it’s true, as the English settlements spread across the Atlantic coast, those founded by the Dutch and the Swedes ended up becoming British colonies, with English as the de facto language. Some of you are even saying, “We got here first, there were more of us anyway, so English wins.”

But wait a minute. It’s time for the 10-point question. What was the first permanent settlement in North America? I’ll give you a hint: it obviously was neither New Amsterdam nor Jamestown. And it wasn’t even Vinland, the Norse colony in what is now Newfoundland, settled almost 500 years before Columbus (the key word here is permanent).

Give up? The answer is St Augustine, Florida, settled by the Spanish in 1585. It remained under Spanish rule, and the Spanish language until 1763. So is it any wonder that there is so much Spanish spoken in Florida? All things considered, shouldn’t Spanish have become a major language in the United States a long time ago?

And things only get more complicated when you consider the Southwest and California, all of which were once parts of Mexico. Here we took an entire Spanish-speaking region that was almost the size of the existing United States at the time, and added it to our country. Once again, it’s amazing that it took so long for Spanish to gain the foothold that it has today.

So, you see, I’m not bothered by how Spanish is becoming used by more and more people in their everyday lives, nor am I bothered by bilingual traffic signs or government forms. It’s simply the way that languages go. First it was Dutch, then it was English, and next it will be Spanish. That’s just the way it is.

Oh…but wait. It seems that I forgot one very important language. So, for all you English Firsters out there, let me ask you this question:
How’s your Leni Lenape?


  1. Um...wait...weren't there people living here already? And didn't they talk while they played LaCrosse? (Hint: Not their name for the game...) John

  2. Um…that's why I closed with "How's your Leni Lenape?"

  3. I think you meant "muy pequeno" - with the tilde over the n, but I don't know how to do that in the comments here, which means very small. Mas pequeno isn't proper Spanish grammar (translated "more small"). :)