I happened upon a timely post (by Pierre Tristam) which stated that English Is Not the National Language and in the comments he went further and suggested:
"Language is not the only thing that preserves us as a nation...And the Constitution (certainly a more defining glue than language) can be spoken in any language and have the same power."
The US Constitution in any language? Fascinating concept.
"the Constitution...can be spoken in any language and have the same power."
Well yes it would have a great deal of power, I am sure, in any language. But would you want to run our US courts under foreign translations? (I ask that literally as this whole business of "national" or "official" language is not a theoretical question but comes down to a whole lot of very practical and tangible things like pleadings in court and street signs.)
If anything suggests that we do have a national language — and that it is English — it would be the language of our law. It's so obvious — hat's off to Tristam for suggesting it — that I had never thought of it before. So I would ask this question of any who oppose (or disbelieve) the idea that we have (or should have) a "national language:"*
Should we allow translations of the Constitution to be used in US Courts as the basis for lawsuits?
Should you be allowed to plead that some planning department has overstepped its bounds by issuing (or refusing to issue) a building permit and cite as your authority a version of the US Constitution in Dutch? Or Swahili? Or one of the dozens and dozens of mother tongues spoken by American citizens?
I really can't fathom that anyone could suggest "Yes, we should translate the Constitution into many languages. And use them all in our Courts."
So it seems to me that if you say "No, you have to cite the original version in English" then your are agreeing that we do have a national language. We do not have multiple versions of the Constitution and you have to refer back to it in the original language, which perforce becomes the baseline for all social agreement.
Such a rule — the Constitution can only be cited in English — is sensible in so many ways that I don't think I need to explore it beyond saying that the first and most obvious reason is that we already have enormous difficulty interpreting the Constitution in one language. To add more versions would be madness.
* I'm leaving open what having a "national language" means in practice. Tristam makes some good points that having a "national academy" (as do the French) to keep the language pure would be stupid and self-defeating and really impossible to accomplish. But there are lots of questions — for example, Are there any rights or duties relating to bi- or multi-lingualism? — which I think can be fairly debated, though their answers to me are quite clear.