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Ketchikan has seen better days when it comes to the state Legislature.

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Hazel Lydia Snapp, 70, died Nov. 17, 2014, in Seattle.
3/31/2014
Official languages

It's appropriate for Alaska to remember its past — particularly the languages spoken here through history.

Alaska is a rich and multi-cultured state.

Its official language is English. It might have been Russian at one point in time. It could have turned out to be Eyak, one of many Native tongues.

But, in fact, Alaskans — through the turn of events — made English the official language.

House Bill 216 would change that, making 20 Native languages official in the state as well. But, given that few Alaskans speak those languages, it is a symbolic gesture, and should be characterized as such in the bill.

Clearly, not only in Alaska, but throughout the nation, official business is conducted in English, because that's the language most people here speak. We're all one people; we've either been here for centuries or we've come from places throughout the world. As we've assimilated, we've maintained some local customs and brought others with us, leaving behind societies where German, Japanese, Vietnamese and Spanish are the official language of the land. Some of us still might speak Native languages or we know someone who does. But we've evolved into a society where English is the official language.

Every year new Alaskans and Americans arrive or are born here; they are just as much Alaskan and American as those who came before them. Most will learn to speak English. But some also will be taught other languages in an effort to preserve cultural history.

Second languages have been taught in Alaska schools for at least 50 years. To know how to speak a second language is commendable and often helpful when traveling or welcoming visitors.

People have the freedom here to speak their language of choice. For some, that was wrongly denied in the past. But, in the present, that wrong has been recognized and rectified.

A state or a nation should have only one official language, if only to control the cost of government and business, and to enable all of us to communicate with each other. But it's wise to remember our history and the ways in which we have communicated.