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Language as the Laissez-Passer Par Excellence

As an immigrant and the son of refugees, Y-H-B often heard the phrase “Nansen passport” uttered by his parents, who were stateless until immigrating to the United States in 1952 and were able to travel between the wars only because they held this document, a laissez-passer (from the French ‘let pass’) issued to Russian refugees by Fridtjof Nansen in 1922 in his role as High Commissioner for Refugees for the League of Nations.

Given today’s world situation, with its high incidence of forced migration due to wars, it might be apposite to remind readers that the key to acceptance of migrants in their new countries is their command of the language of the communities they join. Nothing is as powerful a warrant of their bona fides as speech that conforms in every possible respect to the linguistic norms of their adoptive countries.

MICHAEL SHAPIRO

One Response to “Language as the Laissez-Passer Par Excellence”

  • Gary Richmond says:

    You wrote: “it might be apposite to remind readers that the key to acceptance of migrants in their new countries is their command of the language of the communities they join. Nothing is as powerful a warrant of their bona fides as speech that conforms in every possible respect to the linguistic norms of their adoptive countries.”

    While I agree that this is a desideratum, it is very difficult for many immigrants (especially those who are older) to be able–and despite intensive efforts–to conform “in every possible respect to the linguistic norms of their adoptive countries.” In my several decades of teaching at LaGuardia Community College in Queens, NY, a borough with a very large immigrant population, I found that even certain brilliant individuals (I remember, for example, several Russian immigrants (very well educated as physicians, or had PhD’s, or were lawyers before they came to the USA) struggling to master the English language. Still, I encouraged them to do *everything* that they could to improve their English.

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