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278 Topics: The English-Only Movement; Famous Songs: “The Yellow Rose of Texas”; kinda; to drink the Kool-Aid

Complete Transcript
You’re listening to ESL Podcast’s English Café number 278.

This is English as a Second Language Podcast’s English Café episode 278. I’m your host, Dr. Jeff McQuillan, coming to you from the Center for Educational Development in beautiful Los Angeles, California.

Visit our website at eslpod.com. Download this episode’s Learning Guide, an 8- to 10-page guide that will help you improve your English and lower your blood pressure – that’s what the doctors tell me!

On this Café, we’re going to talk about something called the English-only movement, efforts to make sure English is the official language in the United States. We’re also going to continue our series on famous songs, this time focusing on “The Yellow Rose of Texas,” a song that most Americans know. As always, we’ll answer a few of your questions as well. Let’s get started.

This Café begins with a discussion about the English-only movement. A “movement” here refers to a period of time when many people are trying to change something in society or change something in the way the government operates. There was a women’s rights movement during the 19th and early 20th centuries that tried, successfully, to get women the right to vote in the United States. There was a civil rights movement in the 1960s and 70s that helped African Americans and other minority groups get better treatment legally and socially.

People involved in the English-only movement are trying to make sure that English becomes the official language of the U.S. government, and therefore making everyone who deals with – who communicates with the government making them speak or write in English to do so. This is actually a very old idea – an old movement that dates back to at least the 1800s. The phrase “to date back to” means to come from a particular time period. I have an old telephone that dates back to the 1950s. It was made in the 1950s, that’s when it first was used.

The now United States has had from its very beginning different language groups that have come here and lived here. By the time of the Revolutionary War, in the late 1700s – the late 18th century, there were already many different languages represented in the United States. Although most Americans spoke English, there were many German speakers also in the United States. In fact, German remained a popular language right up through the 20th century in many areas of the U.S., including the state where I’m from, Minnesota.

The people who wrote the American Constitution, the basic laws of the U.S., decided not, unlike other countries, to have an official language. They decided there would be no official language, although they knew that the majority of people spoke English and English would probably always be the number one language. But they did not declare that English was the official language of the United States, that you had to speak English if you were going to live here.

The United States then began “expanding,” it began to grow, and take over different parts of the North American continent. In 1803, under President Jefferson, we bought the Louisiana Territory, what was called the Louisiana Purchase. And, many of the people living there in addition to the Native American tribes spoke French because it was a French territory. The now state of Texas had many Spanish speakers, as did the areas of California, Arizona, New Mexico, and so forth because these were originally Spanish territories, later Mexican territories. When the U.S. took over Hawaii, that also had a different language, the Hawaiian language of the people who lived there originally. So, there are all these different languages that were becoming part of the population of the United States, part of our culture.

Most these people, especially those who came from other countries that were immigrants, wanted to learn to speak English; they wanted to assimilate into American culture. To “assimilate” (assimilate) means to become part of something, usually by losing your old language or your old culture and adopting this new language or this new culture. Supporters of the English-only movement wanted to, in some ways, force everyone to learn English by making the language policy of the United States reflect English-only versus other languages.

Supporters of this movement, both in the 19th and in the 20th – and 21st centuries, because there are still many people who believe in this movement – think that speaking English – making sure everyone speaks English is a way for U.S. society to be more cohesive. “Cohesive” means that we all work together, that Americans are one country. “Opponents,” people who disagree with the English-only movement, argue that this movement is based more on fear of immigrants than on the importance of English. They also think that passing English-only laws will restrict or limit the access – the ability for people who don’t speak English or don’t speak English fluently to use U.S. government and state government services.

United States, as I said, does not have an official language. There are individual states that do; 27 states have English as the official language. Hawaii has both English and Hawaiian as their official languages. California has an official language; it is English. Our state constitution, in fact, was rewritten back in the late 19th century, in 1878, to say that all government documents should be written only in English. However, that law was later changed, but it tells you that the English-only movement has been around – has been active for most of the history of the U.S.

You might think, “Well, many countries – maybe most countries have official languages. Why is this such a bad idea?” I’m not taking one side or the other – I’m not arguing for one position or the other. I can tell you some of the reasons why some people think it’s a bad idea. Some people believe that English-only would interfere with Americans’ right to communicate their wants and their demands to the government. If you don’t speak English you wouldn’t be able to, for example, communicate with government workers. They would have to speak to you in English, or at least that’s something that could happen.

In the year 2000, then President Bill Clinton signed an order, made a rule that government agencies – federal government agencies had to find better ways of communicating with people, immigrants mostly, who don’t speak English very well. This meant that the government began more actively to translate documents for example into other languages, things that people would need to read to use government services. This was considered a blow to the English-only movement. A “blow” (blow) in this context refers to a hit, like when one person hits another person in a boxing match. Clinton’s law, we could say, was a blow to the English-only movement; it made them a little weaker, it was in opposition to them. However, English-only advocates, those who favor that position, continue to fight for laws that make English an official language.

Many people believe that English-only laws are mostly symbolic. Something that is “symbolic” (symbolic) is something that can be a symbol – that’s where the word comes from. A “symbol” is something, in this case, that has some meaning, but it isn’t very important in and of itself. “Symbolic” doesn’t always mean that, but in this instance when we say the laws – English-only laws are symbolic, we mean yes, it says English is the official language but that’s not very important; it doesn’t have a lot of practical impact on the way things are done. It’s very difficult, of course, even if you have English-only laws to enforce it. That is, to make sure people actually speak only English. This is particularly true for example in schools that have children of immigrants who are still learning English.

I think if you asked most Americans, “Should everyone learn English who lives in the United States?” the answer would probably be yes. It just makes sense; it’s easier for you to communicate with other people – with the people at your work, at your church, at your club, whatever you do, if you speak their language. However, I don’t think most Americans are against other people – immigrants or others – speaking a language other than English. In fact, we spend millions and millions of dollars trying to teach people other languages in our schools. So although a lot of Americans say, “Yes, I believe English should be our official language,” people also recognize that you can speak another language and English; you don’t have to give up or leave your old language in order to acquire a new one. Of course, we here at English as a Second Language Podcast believe this, that you can have two or three or more languages that you acquire – that you learn. That’s not a problem for the brain; it’s just a problem of getting enough listening and reading to do that.

Another thing that people I think have a misunderstanding about is the attitude of immigrants when it comes to learning English. A lot of people think that immigrants don’t want to learn English. If you come to a city like Los Angeles for example, you can go to some parts of the city where everyone speaks Korean, other parts of the city where everyone speaks Armenian, other parts of the city where everything that you see is in Spanish, and so forth. That doesn’t mean that people don’t want to speak English. In fact, most immigrants who come here want to learn English, they want to improve their English as I mentioned earlier.

What will happen with the English-only movement? I don’t think most Americans now, with the other problems our country has, believe this is an important issue. It hasn’t been talked about in a few years, but someday it will become more popular again, and you will hear people talking about the English-only movement.

I mentioned Texas earlier. Texas is a state in the south central part of the U.S., on the border with the country of Mexico. There’s a famous folk song called “The Yellow Rose (rose) of Texas.” A “folk song” is a traditional song that people in a given area often sing and use it is part of their identity – their cultural identity. Almost every country and region has folk songs, and the U.S. is no different.

This folk song comes from the early part of the 19th century; it was first published in 1858, and it was performed by someone named Charles H. Brown, but it was probably written by someone else and it’s probably older than 1858.

Although the song is about Texas, it’s not the official song of the state of Texas, but it’s very popular in that state and in other places. I learned to sing this song when I was in junior high school, when we learned many popular American folk songs as part of our English class I think. Kind of strange, but the teacher wanted to teach us these songs and so we learned them. “The Yellow Rose of Texas” was one of them.

It’s a song about a woman named Emily D. West. The term that was used back in the 19th century was “mulatto” (mulatto). Emily West was called a mulatto; it refers to someone who has one black or African American parent and one white parent. However, this term is not used anymore, and you should not use it to refer to someone who has what we would now probably call “mixed-race” background or a “mixed-race” ancestry. Another term used in this time period to refer to someone of mixed-race heritage or background was “yellow,” and so a yellow person – a yellow woman would be someone who had a black and a white parent.

Now Emily, the woman in this song, is the yellow rose of Texas. A “rose” is a beautiful flower, and that’s the idea behind the song. According to the stories that people tell about the song, this yellow rose “seduced” the President and Commander of Mexico, meaning that she became involved with him in some sort of sexual relationship. Remember, the U.S. and Mexico went to war; first actually, it was the people living in Texas who went to war against Mexico and the U.S. favored them – wanted them to win, wanted Texas to be independent of Mexico. This is sometimes called the Texas Revolution or the Texas War of Independence. It ended in 1836 when Texas became its own country – it became independent, and it stayed that way for about nine years. Then, it became part of the United States, as a state; that was in 1845.

The story behind this song – the story about this song, where it comes from – says that this yellow rose of Texas, this woman Emily West, seduced the President and Commander of Mexico back in the 1835 to 1836 war. She “seduced” him means that she became involved in a sexual relationship with him. The leader of Mexico was General Santa Anna. They say that this distracted the leader of Mexico, meaning the leader was worried about his relationship with this woman instead of the war – instead of the battle that he was about to fight with General Sam Houston of the Texas revolutionaries. And because of this distraction he lost the battle and lost the war.

Well, there’s some truth to the story in that there was in fact a woman named Emily West who lived in Texas, and she might have even been taken by the Mexican Army as a prisoner. But it is almost certainly not true that she seduced Santa Anna and that was a reason for the Mexicans losing the battle that we referred to. But, of course this is a song, and songs often – in fact, usually are made up or fictional stories.

This song is really a love song, in some ways, to this beautiful woman who helped Texas get its independence. I’ll sing the song and then I’ll explain some of the words. Most of the words will probably understand. Like most folk songs there are many different versions of this song, so you may look it up on the Internet and find different words. I’m going to use the words that became popular in the middle – at least by the middle of the 20th century, a form of the song that was most likely to be taught and perhaps continues to be taught in our schools.

Here, then, is the first “verse,” or first section of the song:

There’s a yellow rose in Texas
That I am gonna see,
Nobody else could miss her,
Not half as much as me.
She cried so when I left her,
It like to broke my heart,
And if I ever find her
We never more will part.

This song is being sung by a “soldier,” a man who works in the army. He says, “There’s a yellow rose in Texas that I am gonna (I am going to) see, nobody else could miss her, not half as much as me,” meaning I’m going to see this beautiful woman; I miss her more than anyone, I love her and therefore when I am not with her I miss her. So he sings, “Nobody else could miss her, not half as much as me. She cried so when I left her (meaning she cried a lot when I left her), it like to broke my heart.” Now this is not proper, formal English. It’s what we might call colloquial English, English in this case that was spoken at the time in Texas. It just means that she cried a lot when he left her and it broke his heart. When we say someone “broke your heart” we mean that it made you feel very sad, especially when that person was someone you were romantically interested in. He says, “And if I ever find her we never more will part,” meaning if I can find her again I am never going to leave her.

The original song became popular during the Civil War. After the war began in 1861, it was sung by many of the troops from the South, what we call the Confederate troops, or soldiers. They sang it while they were “marching,” while they were walking long distances. The lyrics – the words they used were different, and as I mention there are many different versions of the song, which is true for many folk songs.

Let’s sing it one more time before we get to your questions.

There’s a yellow rose in Texas
That I am gonna see,
Nobody else could miss her,
Not half as much as me.
She cried so when I left her,
It like to broke my heart,
And if I ever find her
We never more will part.

Our first question comes from Tom (Tom) in Poland. Tom wants to know the meaning the word – actually informal word, “kinda” (kinda). “Kinda” is an informal version of “kind of,” and it means a little bit; in some way; perhaps, but not completely. If you say, “Oh, he’s kinda cute,” you mean he’s cute but maybe not beautiful. If you say, “Oh, Jeff. He’s kinda a bad singer, kinda a lousy singer (lousy means the same as bad),” you would be, of course, correct. He is not a very good singer!

Sometimes “kinda” means maybe: “Do you want to go to the dance with me?” “Hmm, kinda.” It’s not something that you are giving an exact yes or no answer to; you’re somewhat uncertain. Sometimes it is just used as a meaningless word, what we might call a filler (filler): “It got kinda hot in here.” You really don’t mean it got a little hot; you simply mean it got hot in here. So, you can often eliminate it; it is often not necessary. “Kinda” is informal, and as I said before, means usually a little bit or somewhat.

Heslei (Heslei) in Brazil wants to know the meaning of the idiom “to drink the Kool-Aid.” “Kool-Aid” (Kool-Aid) is a type of drink that mostly children drink; it’s made from dry powder and you put it in the water and you mix it up with sugar. The expression however, “to drink the Kool-Aid,” means to believe some ideas completely almost as if you had no intellectual thought about them, you simply believe them. Usually it’s used as a criticism to say that you believe ideas that are wrong or that are illogical. It’s a phrase that’s only used informally; you would never say this in a business meeting, at least not for most businesses. It’s a criticism; it’s a negative way of saying that someone believes something so much that in some ways they’re almost a little crazy. They don’t really completely understand or completely analyze logically the situation.

The expression comes from a very tragic event, actually, in recent American history, something called the Jonestown massacre. I don’t want to talk about that now, we’ll talk about it in another regular Café section. Basically, this was a way – drinking this Kool-Aid was a way for more than 900 people to kill themselves – to commit suicide back in 1978 in the country of Guyana. But we’ll talk about that unfortunate event some other day. For now, you just need to know that it’s, uh, an expression – a criticism of someone who seems to believe in a set of ideas so completely that they no longer are thinking logically or rationally.

We’re kinda short on time – we don’t have a lot of time left. I want to thank you for listening. If you have a question you can email us at eslpod@eslpod.com.

From Los Angeles, California, I’m Jeff McQuillan. Thank you for listening. Come back and listen to us next time on the English Café.

ESL Podcast’s English Café is written and produced by Dr. Jeff McQuillan and Dr. Lucy Tse, copyright 2011 by the Center for Educational Development.

movement – an effort over a period of time where many people try to change society in some important way

* What do you think of the movement to use more locally grown food in restaurants?

to date back to – to come from a particular time in history; to be from a specific date or point in history

* This gold coin dates back to the American Civil War.

to assimilate – to make a part of one’s own for one’s own benefit; to take something that is different and change it so it fits in better with something else

* Some countries are banning certain types of clothing in an effort to get people to assimilate into mainstream culture.

cohesive – working as one unit; tightly connected and working together

* Unless our department can work more cohesively, I don’t think we can complete the project on time.

blow – a hit; an action that causes something to not work as well or to make it more difficult to accomplish a goal

* Jihan has always wanted to be a doctor, so it was a major blow when he wasn’t accepted into medical school.

symbolic – something that can be interpreted to have a lot of meaning; something used to represent a feeling, action, organization, or something else

* Hanging our flag outside of our house is symbolic of the pride we feel in our country.

folk song – a traditional song that people in a particular area often sing and identify as part of their culture

* My grandmother taught us folk songs she learned from her mother who also grew up in this region.

mulatto – someone who has one white and one black parent

* The term “mulatto” is no longer used for someone of mixed-race ancestry.

to seduce – to attract or entice someone into sexual activity

* In the movie, the beautiful spy was able to seduce the president and steal important secrets.

soldier – a person who serves in the military; a fighter in the military

* How many American and British soldiers died in World War II?

to break (one’s) heart – to feel very sad because of a disappointment or a bad situation, usually related to the ending of a romantic relationship

* It breaks my heart to hear that my best friend’s child is seriously ill and might die.

to march – for a group of people to walk together for a long distance; for a group of soldiers to walk with the same steps from one place to another

* Teachers marched to City Hall to protest the government’s new education policies.

kinda – informal spoken version of “kind of”; to some extent; in some ways; perhaps, but not completely

* When I asked Dana if she wanted to go to the baseball game, she said, “I’d like to go, but I’m kinda tired.”

to drink the Kool-Aid – to believe in a set of ideas completely, even if they are wrong or illogical

* That guy’s idea about creating a government run only by children is crazy! I don’t think anybody is ready to drink the Kool-Aid and sign up to help him.

What Insiders Know
Hawaiian Pidgin English

As one of the 50 states of the United States, English is spoken in Hawaii by its residents. However, if you visit any of the Hawaiian Islands, you will find that many of the people of Hawaii also speak Hawaiian Pidgin English.

Hawaiian Pidgin English is often simply called Pidgin and is a language based in part on standard American English, but that has been influenced by the many “diverse” (different; with many variations) cultural groups that “make up” (combine to form) the peoples of Hawaii. These language influences “initially” (at the beginning) included Portuguese, Chinese, and Hawaiian, and later included Japanese, Korean, and Spanish.

Pidgin “has its roots” (began) as a way to communicate between the English speakers and the immigrants who were brought to work on the island. Many people from Japan, China, the Philippines, Korea, and other countries arrived to work on the “plantations” (large farms). Hawaii has many different types of plantations, and the largest of them grew “pineapple” (a large fruit with yellow meat inside and a hard covering outside) and “sugar cane,” which is used to produce sugar and other products. The English-speaking bosses used Pidgin to speak to their workers, but eventually, the workers began to use it among themselves to communicate.

In the 1800s and 1900s, people who didn’t work on plantations started using Pidgin. Children learned Pidgin from their classmates and it eventually became a widely used language, replacing the original Hawaiian language. Today, some of Hawaii’s most well known authors write poems and short stories in Pidgin. The Christian Bible has even been translated into Hawaiian Pidgin English.