To look at this matter in a much more modern and less depressing way, let’s play around with the individual experiences both Samuel Johnson and Thomas Macaulay would have had at a taco truck somewhere in southern California, surrounded by “non-native” speakers. This scenario is meant to bring our attention to the change in language and mindset between both the persons; their interactions with the people around them (i.e., other customers, the workers) will vary through the same common “problem”: language.
Johnson is the old, thin haired white man whom spent the last minutes before ordering his food searching through google translate on how to ask for two pollo asada tacos and one carne asada sope, only to get served two pollo asada sopes and one carne asada taco. At this point he’s sitting alone at a bench, feeling a stranger to the people around him, muttering to himself “the great pest of speech is frequency of translation… no [food order] was ever turned from one language into another, without imparting something of its native idiom,” as he takes an aggravated bite into his taco (Johnson, 10). Google translate has failed him. He looks down at his food, reminded of the mistranslation and yet again, laments to himself: “it alters not the single stones of a building, but the order of the columns” (Ibid). He finished his food just after this thought, and rising from his seat, he began watching the customers interact with the workers; the vernacular between them was different, and still, they understood each other. Although “some words are budding, and some failing away,” the conversation carries itself well: their food orders are understood correctly.
Meanwhile Macaulay sounds like the middle-aged white man that goes to a taco truck wearing a hat that he bought from a gas station (picture steve bannon) only to antagonize the people there just shortly after enjoying his fill of fish tacos, ranting about how they ought to colonize themselves: “you’re in America now. Speak the goddam language” and whatnot. He finds himself frustrated and annoyed by the audacity of the people speaking non-English, seeing them as incapable of a promising future. He looks at the people now—as one does a mouse in a snake’s cage—and utters, “[I] ought to employ them in teaching what is best worth knowing, that English is better worth knowing than [Spanish or ‘Taco Language’]” (Macaulay, 33). The people see him staring and turn their back to him, feeling uncomfortable, and yet all Macaulay can see is the color of their skin; he wants to change them into Americans however much he can. He walks away finally, wishing he could save them from their “problem” because he wants to do his “best to form a class of persons [indigenous] in blood and colour, but English in tastes, in opinions, in morals and in intellect” (34).
–Daniel Lizaola Lopez