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Official language: A language that is given a special legal status in a particular country.  – Wikipedia

“Un gran lugar para trabajar.”

Admittedly, my Spanish is limited – no, that wouldn’t be quite accurate. Since Mrs. Cadwell’s best efforts to drill some bits and pieces of Spanish into this hard cranium more than half a century ago, about all that could be mined today is: “No comprende.”

On the other hand, I don’t need a translator to understand the words mentioned above because Lowe’s does it for me: “A great place to work.”

In fact, Lowe’s takes great pains to include both Spanish and English in its home improvement stores.

Customers going through checkout will note that a “Thank you for shopping with us” also appears as, “Gracias par comprar con nosotros.”

Lowe’s isn’t alone. Many large retailers and manufacturers include Spanish signage in their stores, online, and on their merchandise. Take a look at that new power drill you purchased the other day, or lawnmower, and the instruction booklet will contain at least two languages, maybe more. There’s no need to go into the telephone recordings many businesses use when contacted by a customer. To recount in detail the familiar “push 1 for English,” 2 for Spanish, etc., etc., could push some readers over the edge. The publisher of this newspaper would not want that.

The trend of using a language other than English to communicate with customers is not new, but it is expanding, for the simple reason that more and more shoppers do not use English as their primary language. If you are in the business of selling products, as Lowe’s is, or JCPenney, you want to communicate with as many customers as you can.

It is business, pure and simple.

And yet, it is troubling.

A strong case can be made that language unifies a people. For most of our nation’s history, English was the unofficial national language. Immigrants learned it and used it. To a large degree, they still do, but English is losing ground and other languages have become dominant in certain areas  of the country.

Capitalism has played a hand in this, but government is misguided when it spends billions of tax dollars for non-English street signs, interpretation services and election ballots.

Should non-English speaking Americans be helped? Of course. But the bulk of the effort should begin with them. Clearly, bilingualism isn’t bad, but in recent years the government’s role has been to encourage it, not simply help people learn English. It’s expensive, it’s poor public policy, and it is hurting the country.

June 10, 2015