The Politics of Language

The use of Spanish in the US has been a long contested issue. For a long time Americans sought to ban the use of non-English languages. During the Republican debate in South Carolina, candidate Marco Rubio made a comment to competitor Ted Cruz that Cruz couldn’t have understood his arguments because they were previously delivered in Spanish and Cruz isn’t a fluent speaker of Spanish (see video). He made his remark about Cruz’s inability to speak in order to throw the seasoned debater off his game and to make him seem less relatable to the Spanish-speaking community.

Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio are nearly fluent speakers and this, in addition to“identifying with the immigrant experience,” helps to narrow the distance between the Republican candidates and the Latino voters. Jeb Bush has now dropped out of the race and that leaves Rubio as the premier Spanish-speaker who is running. Rubio, if elected, would continue support of President Obama’s executive order not to deport illegal immigrants. This is, however, an unpopular position among America’s conservative population which values an all-English, all-American society.

Historically, Spanish-speakers have faced injustice due to their use of their native language for largely xenophobic reasons. For example, Native American dialects were publically prohibited at the turn of the 20th century, German instruction was forbidden during WWI, and Latino children have been punished in schools for using Spanish as recently as last year. “Americans have been known to see language and the ubiquity of English as an expressive form of dominance, the will to assimilate and, somewhat more mysteriously, the power to shape the world.” Many believe that “that which [is] white [is] that which was American” and that anything else is a breach of national loyalty.

Eighty percent of United States citizens speak only one language putting us at a severe disadvantage compared to the rest of the international community. Apart from the globalization and economic advantages, speaking more than one language makes you “more efficient at higher-level brain functions” and improves cognitive skills such as sustained attention and problem solving. Previously it had been thought that multilingualism led to interference in brain activity but now it has been proven that the challenge of processing things in multiple languages actually strengthens the brain. As philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein wrote, “The limits of my language mean the limits of my world.”



Fernandez De Castro, Rafa. "Which Republican Presidential Hopeful Speaks the Best Spanish?" Fusion. N.p., 5 July 2015. Web. 26 Feb. 2016.

Gray, Lisa. "Principal Who Told Kids Not to Speak Spanish Will Lose Job." Houston Chronicle. 19 Mar. 2014. Web. 26 Feb. 2016.

"Language Spoken At Home By Ability To Speak English For The Population 5 Years And Over." American FactFinder. United States Census Bureau, 2014. Web. 26 Feb. 2016.

Lewis, Tanya. "If You're Bilingual, You Have a More Efficient Brain." Washington Post. The Washington Post, 18 Nov. 2014. Web. 26 Feb. 2016.

"Ludwig Wittgenstein (1889—1951)." Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy. N.p., n.d. Web. 26 Feb. 2016.

Ross, Janell. "A Spanish-speaking Pope, and America’s Complicated Relationship with Bilingualism." Washington Post. The Washington Post, 23 Sept. 2015. Web. 26 Feb. 2016.

Ross, Janell. "What That Cruz-Rubio 'He Doesn’t Speak Spanish' Thing Was about."Washington Post. The Washington Post, 14 Feb. 2016. Web. 26 Feb. 2016.

"Spanish Language Debate between Rubio and Cruz." YouTube. N.p., n.d. Web. 26 Feb. 2016.



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