Our Brent Martin has been following the movement of a bill in the Missouri House that would require our drivers license tests be given only in English. Under present law, people who speak any of about a dozen languages can take the test. One of the arguments in favor of the law is that people have to know English to read traffic signs.
It has been many years since we have had to take the written driver’s exam (thank goodness) but we recall that part of the exam involved knowing the meaning of signs by their shape rather than the words written on them. A red octagonal sign can only mean one thing in Missouri.
Many of our signs have no words on them anyway. A sign showing an arrow pointing one way or another with a circle around it and a red diagonal line through the arrow pretty much means “no turn” and needs no words.
So knowing English is often not essential to driving in many circumstances.
Pay attention, conspiracy theorists. This next part is just for you.
Could it be that this entire proposition is a secret plot by (ta-dah!) Billboard companies?
If you can’t read English but you can get a drivers license, you can’t understand what the billboards are telling you. Imagine what a tragedy it is for our billboard companies that people who took a drivers license exam in one of the non-English languages can drive and not realize that Patti’s Pleasure Palace is at exit 170 or that Madeline’s Bra Shop is at the next exit or that Ptomaine Paul’s Steakhouse is part of the convenience store twenty miles away. Not to mention that the Museum of Monstrous Mammal
Oddities is coming up.
Worse yet–Imagine what our roadways would be like if the billboard industry started putting up signs in for these attractions in all of those languages so it would be sure all of those non-English drivers licensed motorists would be informed. The situation would add new meaning to the work of that great American poet Ogden Nash:
I think that I shall never see
A billboard lovely as a tree.
Perhaps unless the billboard fall,
I’ll never see a tree at all.
I think we have pinpointed who’s really behind this effort, haven’t we?
There is one troubling question about this movement to have more things done only in English.
We’ll explore that issue in coming posts. But for now it is time for arrêter (a non-English word used in France that means ‘to stop.”)