English may not be the official language of the United States, but a significant facet of Americans aren't comfortable with even hearing other tongues, according to a new study. A new Pew survey of 6,637 U.S. adults found that 47% of white Republicans — three in 10 Americans — report to be bothered "a lot" or "some" by overhearing languages that aren't English, with only 26% of that group saying they're "not at all" intolerant of other languages being spoken in public.
This discomfort is, of course, at odds with the fact that America was built on linguistic diversity, with Native Americans speaking a plethora of languages and dialects and colonists conversing in Dutch, French and German, among other tongues. And today, according to the U.S. Census, 21.6% of Americans speak a language other than English at home, with the most popular being Spanish; 13.3% of non-English speakers communicate primarily in that language.
Unfortunately, anti-language bias in America has been apparent since at least the antebellum South, during which time slave owners banned the use of African dialects and mandated English speaking to prevent slaves from conspiring against them and connecting to their cultures. Naturally, this didn't work, and languages like pidgin, Creole, and Gullah developed despite efforts to silence expression among the oppressed.
Multilingualism is inherently American, and has been throughout the country's history. However, as the Pew study's unsettling results show, there are plenty of people who are uncomfortable with the United States becoming increasingly populated by people who speak many different languages. As immigration has soared over the past few decades, America has become more and more multilingual, with immigrants and their descendants speaking over 350 languages across the country. Currently, almost half of residents of America's biggest cities speak a language other than English.
Yet intolerance for other languages clearly exists, due perhaps in part to a lack of exposure to other cultures by people living in rural, mostly-white areas, and also to the xenophobia fueled by the government. As we all know, the Trump administration has supported many anti-immigrant policies, and many people in the country seem to believe that American patriotism equals white nationalism. In our current political primate, it's sadly no surprise that there's such a widespread intolerance for other languages.
America is meant to be a melting pot, a country where people from different cultures come together and coexist. Immigrants and American-born people participate in the same economy, attend the same schools, and, as citizens, are guaranteed the same rights under the Constitution. And while there are few legal acts that acknowledge America's multiculturalism, there is 1975's Voting Rights Act, which was enacted in order to help non-English speaking or reading Americans vote in their native language to participate in their civic duty.
America is better off as a country filled with different languages and cultures, regardless of what some white Republicans might feel. Science even suggests that multilingualism is beneficial for your brain, aiding overall wellness, intelligence, and critical thinking skills. Additionally, learning another language may also actually improve your English, according to some studies.
Thankfully, white Republicans don't make up the entire population of America, and the Pew survey found that people with higher educations and in younger age groups are far less bothered by hearing languages other than English in public. Even more, with an increasing number of kids being raised to be bilingual across the country, it's not unlikely that multilingual Americans may become the norm before long — whether some people in the country like it or not.