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Mark Covey, Published August 09 2010

Official English in Minnesota serves up unique challenges

So Gov. Tim Pawlenty wants to make English Minnesota’s official language. Never mind that there’s not a poo’s chance in a tornado of that idea passing the Legislature, that if you can’t speak English good, you won’t go far in Minnesota (look what happened to that Ventura guy) or that this is just a neckid play to the right-wing base to further his national aspirations.

But give the idea its due, why don’t cha?

So, question 1: Whose English then? We might make the Queen’s English the official language in which case we’d all be askn’ for more bangers with our eggs, not to mention that the Limies got no good way to talk about coffee, them gosh-darned tea-drinking stuck-ups.

Or we might standardize on the formal third-grade English we were all learnt in grade school, but then we wouldn’t have no way of telling that great off-color joke about Ole, Lena and Sven we heardt at the barber shop. I like Fargo-standard English where we all sound like a bunch of Cohen brothers characters standing around gassin’ about the weather, don’t cha know? Or we could standardize on politician’s English, in which case none of us would get a word in edgewise, probably to Mr. Pawlenty’s liking, thank you very much.

And question number B: What about them furren’ words that snuck in our linguistic Great Wall? How da heck you gonna order at a Mexican restaurant where you rendezvous (er, meet) with friends: “I’ll take one of them folded corn-thingies with the ground hamburger (oh my, that’s a furren’ word), I mean the ground beef with the lettuce, but not too much because greens give me the winds ...”

Ah, heck. Just give me a hot dog. And forget about ever ordering one of them there chimy-chongas.

So, question 3: Does Timmy know what that would do to all our church suppers? I mean, what the heck good would it do anybody if we can’t talk about lefse, the lutefisk that got overcooked again this year, or how when we get to Heaven everyone will talk Norwegian, German, or even Latin the way God intended? And forget about Syttende Mai, Cinco de Mayo, Octoberfest and all the other ethnic holidays observed by non-Americans.

Oh, for dumb. Enough, already. As no one in Minnesota or the rest of the United States functions effectively without working knowledge of English, his is an unnecessary suggestion that appeals to a political base he needs for his aspirations but, so far, has yet been able to energize.

So here is a serious question: Does Pawlenty appreciate that language, with its assimilation of a melange other traditions and constantly evolving nature is a large part of culture? If he doesn’t, he doesn’t have the perspective to be president of this country. If he does see the connection and persists in this notion, he lacks essential presidential principles when he advocates the exclusion of the many variants of language and the marginalization of the citizens who practice them. Either way, he loses, unless he wins and then we all lose.