Carroll County in midst of heated debate about English language

(Photo: Horia Varlan via Creative Commons)

Carroll County, Md. is in the midst of a heated debate about the English language.

“If we’re going to be the melting pot then we need to be a melting pot,” says Stacey Ridgeley of Westminster.

“I’m tired of having to call 4-1-1 on the phone and press one for English,” says Newlan Cowan, also of Westminster. “This is America.”

With a proposed county ordinance, the discussion is now official.

“It seems to be a no-brainer,” says Haven Shoemaker, Carroll County commissioner. “I don’t know what the hullabaloo is all about.”

Shoemaker wants English to be the official language in Carroll County, used for all government business. He says he got the idea after hearing about how another D.C. suburb spent big money translating a parcel of land use documents.

“It was Armenian and that particular jurisdiction had to hire an interpreter to interpret all that stuff and it cost a bit of money.”

With the proposal, all county documents, publications, and hearings would be in English with no translations. There would be exceptions, like for emergency services, but English would be the official language. That concerns some residents.

“Everybody here is an immigrant,” says Sylvia Serrao.

Serrao, a frequent customer at Latino businesses here, fears non-English speakers will get in trouble without translator help.

“People are signing papers, they don’t know what it says and agreeing to do things and they don’t know what they are,” she says.

Census records show nine of 10 Carroll County residents are white. The Latino population is small, about 3 percent.

“I don’t know how to speak Spanish and I have a lot of Spanish customers,” says Evelyn Beall, who owns a flower shop.

However, she supports the ordinance and the notion that newcomers should learn English.

“I really feel that anyone who comes in here should learn to speak out language because you’re coming to our country,” she says.

There are signs of diversity in the county. Some wonder if “majority rules” is a fair argument.

“There’s a bunch of types of cultures and people in our county so why should we force everybody to be just one way?” asks Summer Serrao.

The fate of official English will be the subject of debate at a public hearing December.