Tuesday, January 2, 2007

What's in an (English) Name?

State Sen. Kathleen Wilcoxson, an Oklahoma City Republican, has proposed a law making English the state's official language. Wilcoxson told the Tulsa World last week that the law's impact would be minimal, but that the English requirement would make a statement.

"It's a statement that we are one people under one language," Wilcoxson told the World.

Sounds good, doesn't it? "One people under one language"—who could disagree with that?

Pardon us for saying so, but a few testy historians and linguists might want to challenge the "one language" idea. After all, the very name of the state and its capital city aren't English words. Nor is the word "Tulsa." Nor are a host of other cities, counties, towns, rivers, landmarks, and so on.

If memory serves, "Oklahoma" is a Choctaw word. Many places in the state have Native American names. We can also think of Spanish and French places in Oklahoma. So how does this square with the proposed English requirement?

Beyond changing the state's name, here are a few other places we may have to re-name if Sen. Wilcoxson's bill makes us enforce the English language policy: Anadarko, Sapulpa, Eufaula, Tahlequah, Chickasha, Shawnee, Choctaw, Wewoka, Seminole, El Reno, Watonga, Vinita, Ponca City, Oologah, Muskogee, Pawhuska, the Quachita National Forest, the Verdigris River, the Arkansas River, the Washita River—we could go on and on.

The good senator might want to re-think her English legislation. Maybe we were never really united under one language after all.

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