President Obama signed into law Monday controversial legislation requiring state and federal agencies and businesses to translate all documents, signs and records to every other language known to exist.
“From the highest federal agency to the most remote mom and pop store, all businesses and government offices will lead the way to a more diverse and fair future,” Obama said at a press conference following the signing.
The law, the Strengthening America by Recognizing and Celebrating Our Multilingual Heritage Act, is designed to promote respect for those who don’t speak the predominant English language. Obama stressed that language barriers pose civil rights implications by denying equal access to government and business.
“When you don’t speak English but the people and businesses around you do, it’s up to them to learn your language, and that’s the goal of this new law,” said Alberto Sanchez of the Hispanic Tolerance League, a group which works to cultivate appreciation of Latino cultures.
The law provides funding for a special team of linguists that will work to translate all federal and state government documents into every language, from German to Swahili. Also included are Latin and many regional dialects not widely spoken but still in use by some cultures.
It is estimated that the translations will cost at least $3.8 billion, including the cost of hiring language experts and the billions of government documents and publications that must be translated, re-printed, and distributed. The federal government is expected to rent storage space to store many of these translated documents.
To anticipate the discovery of extraterrestrial life in outer space, and to ensure linguistic tolerance for such people, a special group of computer, scientific, and language experts has been assembled to predict what language aliens might speak. The panel will use an array of complex scientific tools and expertise to determine exactly what language such individuals would speak.
“We’ll be analyzing science fiction movies, interviewing alleged victims of alien abductions, and talking with UFO cult leaders in order to come up with an extraterrestrial language,” said panel member Neal Sherman.
Because all businesses are also required to print translations, everything from books to cooking directions on microwave meals will be affected. A commission has been established to enforce the translation requirements and to fine non-compliant businesses.
Consumers are used to seeing instructions written in English, Spanish, and even French on a variety of different products. But with vastly more spoken – and unspoken – languages worldwide, consumers will now see several more pages of instructions.
“You can expect to see such things as salad dressing bottles with numerous pages of translated nutritional information attached,” said Henry McIntosh of the American Consumer and Product Safety Alliance, a consumer rights organization. “We’ll even see tires with the technical information written in extremely small font, in every different language.”
Sherman pointed out that when someone can’t read warnings or instructions because of a language barrier, there is an increased risk of accident or injury. “It’s a civil rights issue,” he added.
Federal officials will also require more language translations for automated telephone recordings. The familiar “press one for English, press 2 for Spanish” directions are about to grow longer as a result.
Despite the added compliance costs to businesses, Obama emphasized the importance of equal access for everyone regardless of their spoken language. “We can’t have economic recovery only for those who speak English,” the president said.