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Letter: Spanish Speakers' Critics Should Remember the Past

Lee Weidner of Hellertown says the prevalence of Spanish speakers today is not much different than the prevalence of speakers of Pennsylvania Dutch in bygone days.

To the editor:

In 21st century Saucon Valley there seem to be quite a few folks with Pennsylvania German background who resent having to make a choice between English and Spanish on business-related computers over the phone or at ATMs. Moaning and groaning take place. Even elected local community leaders are heard making snide comments regarding the possibility of having to post bilingual signs in public places. 

This is merely a reminder that a couple centuries ago the same attitude would have been and actually was expressed regarding English and German. It wasn't until decades ago in the 20th century that a problem no longer existed, since many local citizens chose to speak Pennsylvania German--otherwise known as Pennsylvania "Dutch"--only in the home, but not in public.

Even Ben Franklin at times bemoaned the influx of so many German immigrants into Pennsylvania. For example, Abraham R. Horne, whose ancestors had emigrated from Germany after purchasing land from John and Thomas Penn in the early 18th century, expressed in his 1875 "Manual" that Pennsylvania Germans were greatly handicapped in their education by their inability to properly use the English language. He wrote, "The great problem presented for solution, is how shall six to eight hundred thousand inhabitants of eastern Pennsylvania, to say nothing of those of other parts of our own state and of other states, to whom English is as much a dead language as Latin and Greek, acquire a sufficient knowledge of English to enable them to use the language intelligently?"

"To render such assistance to those who speak Pennsylvania German only as will enable them to acquire the more readily the two most important modern languages, English and German, has induced us to prepare this Manual."

During the 21st century, insert Spanish for German in the previous paragraph and we find relevance in today's educational system. Horne's later edition, "Pennsylvania German Manual" of 1895, came to be used by families and in schools, thereby greatly adding to the advancement of citizens, especially in eastern PA. Incidentally, the 1895 edition was published in Allentown, where today a majority speak Spanish, just as in 1875 a majority spoke Pennsylvania German. If technological devices had been available then, one's language choice would have been different. (Just a reminder.)

Lee Weidner

Hellertown

charles hampton October 27, 2012 at 11:34 AM
Excellent point, Mr. Weidner!
Walter October 27, 2012 at 01:06 PM
Theodore Roosevelt's ideas on Immigrants and being an AMERICAN in 1907. "In the first place, we should insist that if the immigrant who comes here in good faith becomes an American and assimilates himself to us, he shall be treated on an exact equality with everyone else, for it is an outrage to discriminate against any such man because of creed, or birthplace, or origin. But this is predicated upon the person's becoming in every facet an American, and nothing but an American ... There can be no divided allegiance here. Any man who says he is an American, but something else also, isn't an American at all. We have room for but one flag, the American flag ... We have room for but one language here, and that is the English language ... and we have room for but one sole loyalty and that is a loyalty to the American people." Theodore Roosevelt 1907
sue October 27, 2012 at 10:23 PM
But let us not forget, that it was a Pennsylvania German's vote that declared the official language of our new country would be English...

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