“Monday Musings” for Monday April 7, 2014
Volume IV. No. 14/170
Why English Should be the Official Language
By: Assad Meymandi, MD, PhD, DLFAPA*
Today’s Musings are imbued with personal memories. They have to do with my choosing to come to America and study medicine, among other things. You see, I was not born an American. I chose to be an American. I entered the US on April 7, 1955, exactly 59 years ago to the minute, knowing ten English words.
In order to go to college and prepare for a medical education, I knew that I had to learn English rather quickly. In months between April and September when college opened, I memorized the 285,000 words of the 1955 edition of the Oxford Dictionary. Later, I expanded this knowledge and learned the etymology of practically every one of those words. Soon, I learned that the very first edition of the Oxford Dictionary was compiled by Dr. Samuel Johnson exactly 200 years before my date of entry, namely April 7, 1755. I found an original copy of Dr. Johnson dictionary through the Library of Congress. The edition contains 50,000 words. I enjoyed memorizing it, also, and forming an adoring relationship with the late Dr. Johnson.
Three years were spent in college pre-medical education with majors in English and Chemistry. I entered medical school in 1958. In 1962, exactly seven years after coming to the US, I had earned Doctor of Medicine (MD).
My intense experience with the English language brought me close to much older and wiser linguists and University Professors. Among them was the late Samuel Hayakawa, the then Chancellor of San Francisco State University, who in 1977 became A US Senator from California. He used to get a kick out of my referring to him as the semi-somnolent septuagenarian, Senator Samuel Hayakawa.
I wrote a letter to Hayakawa and to our own then Senator, Jesse Helms, who also knew something about my love of the English language, suggesting that they sponsor a bill to make English the official language of America. I even sent some money to facilitate expenses associated with the authorship of the bill, etc…
I believe it was 1979 when they invited me to testify before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and the House’s Foreign Affairs Committee. The bill never passed.
In my testimonies, instead of concentrating on the importance of the subject matter, the solons enjoyed my ability to close my eyes and recite page after page of the Oxford Dictionary, “octave, octennial, octet, octillion, octillionth, October, octodecimo, octogenarian, octomerous, octoary, octoploid, octopod, octopus, octoroon, etc…”
With all my emotional and intellectual resources, I believe making English the official language of America is the most important issue in today’s political discourse. It is an abomination and travesty that folks can come to America, live for as many as 30 years, and know not who Abraham Lincoln is, or the first thing about our flag, or the Founding Fathers of the US Constitution. I believe that to be an American, one must know the English language, know the bare essentials of our Constitution, our Republic, our Bill of Rights and the story of the birth of this nation and our Founding Fathers. What are the requirements to be an American? In my view, the catechism of being an American should consist of a good knowledge, if not verbatim memorization, of four documents. They are, the US Constitution, the Bill of Rights, the Federalist Papers and George Washington’s Farewell Address.
Please feel free to call on me and use me as a reference to further this, what I consider to be a holy cause.
God Bless America!
Editor’s Note: Members of the North Carolina Medical Society are often called upon to serve as “Doctor of the Day” at the NC General Assembly. At the beginning of one such day’s session, Dr. Meymandi was invited to make remarks, which follow.
The Gift Of America
Ladies and Gentlemen:
Thank you for this high honor. In the few minutes allotted to me, I wish to submit that America is the best thing that ever happened in this world and to this world. While I do not have Lincoln’s eloquence at Gettysburg, I do take inspiration from his every word. Not four scores and seven years ago, but about ten thousand years ago, the age of Neolithic man, God set out to send man on the road to perfection.
He sent the ancient Persian prophet, Zaratustra (Zoroaster), as early as 500 BC, to bring us the concept of good and evil which in modern day philosophy is known as epistemological dualism. The Sumerians brought us literacy and language. The Egyptians taught us social order and government; the Persians, participatory democracy; the Greeks city-state and citizen representation; the Babylonians gave us devotion and discipline; and Jesus came bringing us civility, hope and love. 1215 years later, the Anglo Saxons brought us the Magna Carta. And in 1756 we were given Mozart, through whom music flowed like water running through the fountains of Tivoli.
But it was not until 1776 that God commissioned, in a divine and mysterious manner, a group of faithful thinkers to lay the cornerstone of a new experiment that in a short span of time has become the envy of the world. The experiment is the Republic they created. It is our United States of America. I am convinced that God had a definite hand guiding the framers of our constitution in creating this profoundly decent and just document. The American Constitution, as a literary piece, combines Augustinian grace, Franciscan tenacity, Christian hope and possibility, Talmudic order and Zoroastrian aspiration for good deed and perfection. It is a talismanic masterpiece with magical powers. We have seen Sultans, kings, Shahs and potentates come and go. But governing by the rule of law, the unique legacy of the American Constitution and the nobility of Bill of Rights are here to stay.
We should all be proud to be Americans. As legislators, you, ladies and gentlemen, occupy the lofty position as guarantors of this sacred legacy, the legacy that in America, laws and not men rule. You are the law makers, and you are the ultimate governors of our people. As one American who enjoys the inalienable freedom and liberties bestowed upon me, I thank you for your leadership, sacrifice and guardianship of our sacred American Constitution.
*The writer is Adjunct Professor of Psychiatry, University of North Carolina School of Medicine at Chapel Hill, Distinguished Life fellow American Psychiatric Association, and Founding Editor and Editor-in-Chief, Wake County Physician Magazine (1995-2012). He serves as a Visiting Scholar and lecturer on Medicine, the Arts and Humanities at his alma mater the George Washington University School of Medicine and Health.