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Pet Sins November 2000

The sensibility of banning the use of non-English languages when English is a multi-linguistic synthesis

Utahns for Official English (UOE) and supporters thereof have defeated their purpose by unwittingly violating their petition. The UOE seeks to remove all non-English words from matters concerning the Utah State government. However, unbeknown to the average English speaking U.S. citizen, the word Utah is not English! In fact, many "English" words that can be found in the common household English dictionary are adopted words known as etymons from other languages and cultures spanning the globe over many historical ages. For example, the name Utah is derived from a Native American word meaning "those who dwell high up" or "mountaintop dweller." (Utah, Microsoft Encarta Online Encyclopedia 2000).

Arriving Europeans mistakenly believed the name Utah referred to the Ute people, later applying the word to the state. The state's original name was Deseret, from a word in the Book of Mormon that means land of the honeybee. (Utah, Microsoft Encarta Online Encyclopedia 2000).

English is a synthesis of many languages and cultural or colloquial idioms. Here in Utah, cultural idioms have permeated our colloquial vocabulary, yet many of these words have never been defined as English by any English dictionary. For example, we know that the word "Utah" was not the preferred name chosen by the 19th century Latter-Day Saints (LDS) when statehood was granted. Indeed, Utah's flux of LDS occupants coined the name "Deseret," a Latin derived word that means, "to abandon." The word Deseret has no definition in any English dictionary. Since the English people had no desert terrain to describe, the Latin word deserere , the etymon of desert, was adopted by the English to describe such a habitat.

Let us not question this obvious lack of English only usage among the UOE or among the colloquial vocabulary of the majority of Utah's population and consider the petition for English only laws regardless of this dichotomy. In support of the English only petition, we can halt the usage of many popular Utah names such as those listed below in our effort to abide by English only laws simply because none of them are English:

Popular Utah Names Language/Cultural Origin
  1. Aberdeen: Scottish Gaelic
  2. Bacchus: Latin
  3. Duchesne: French
  4. Ephraim: Hebrew
  5. Escalante: Spanish
  6. Levan: LDS culture
  7. (Mexican) Hat: (Nahuatl) -Uto-Aztecan
  8. Timpanogos: Paiute
  9. Tuacahn: Mayan
  10. Wasatch: Nooahpahgut of Noochew (Ute)

Despite the dire quest for the UOE to dictate English only usage without knowing English etymology, the English language continues to be influenced by other languages and cultural or colloquial idioms. This influence is exposed when one proceeds to systematically remove all non-English words only to discover that one has nothing corrigible, cohesive, nor cognizant remaining to petition for or against in matters concerning the Utah State government.

Susan Carreon
University of Utah
Salt Lake City, UT