You’ve heard this phrase before. You might even agree with it. But before you admonish someone in Australia for speaking a language other than English, consider this – English is not the official language of Australia.
That’s right. Australia has no official language, despite the fact that English has been the language of government, education and communication in the country since colonisation about 250 years ago.
This might surprise a lot of people – including Australians. It might also disappoint a lot of Australians, especially the bigots. Intolerant Australians love to remind migrants, international students, tourists and anyone else speaking a language other than English that everyone must speak English – or leave.
These people launch into verbal, or even physical, attacks on public transport when they overhear someone speaking a language other than English. They flood social media and internet forums with posts demanding the use of English to the exclusion of any other language. They even get elected to parliament. They forget, however, that they themselves have failed to master the Queen’s English.
We could remind them that English is only the lingua franca – but lingua franca is a ‘foreign’ phrase. We could remind them that English is the de facto language, but de facto is also a ‘foreign’ phrase.
We could explain why English is not the official language. In most part because one of the 200 or so indigenous languages would also have to be installed as an official language, and that is far too many to choose from. Aussie racists wouldn’t stand for an Aboriginal language being an official language, because their racism is directed most vehemently at Aboriginal people.
Ironically, English is also not the official language of the United Kingdom, which includes England. Thus, English is not the official language in the land of its birth. It does not hold this status because Welsh is the official language of Wales, which is part of the UK. How would Brits feel about Welsh being installed as the official language of the UK?
Furthermore, English is not the official language of the United States. If one country does bigotry well, it’s the US of A. They elected a serial racist to the White House because he promised to build a wall to keep out Spanish speakers and to ban Muslims from entering the country. How would they react if they knew that English is not their official language? How would they grapple with terms like lingua franca and de facto?
Staunch nationalists from Australia, as well as their counterparts in the USA and the UK, might also frown at the news that English itself is a mongrel language, which blends Anglo-Saxon, Norman, Germanic, Latin, Gaelic and Scandinavian influences into one lingua franca.