The AFU and Urban Legend Archive
Language
german us official lang




Subject: Return of the US Language UL
Date: 12 Jul 92 16:43:24 GMT

Those of you who have been around here for longer than you care to admit (like me) may remember the time someone brought up a legend about German having narrowly missed becoming the official language of the United States. This is a common story, and the usual cap to it is that Congress voted - by a majority of one vote - to make English the official language of the US, this significantly altering the course of development in the US textbook publishing industry.

The story is false. Matter of fact, the US at present does not have an "official" language in the sense of a language declared by law to have special status; English is merely the de facto standard. There _was_ indeed some discussion about which language to adapt, with some strong seperatists arguing that English was the language of the "enemy". However, there were no cliff-hangers as suggested by the legend mentioned above; the strong seperatists were a minority group, and it was pretty clear from the start that most people considered changing from English to be too much trouble. All this junk was discussed the last time around, but i wanted to summarize it for those who weren't with us then.

The reason for bringing this up is that i have found an incident that may be the source of this UL. (Drum roll.) My source is the _Cambridge Encyclopedia of Language_, by David Crystal, published by the Cambridge University Press, (c)1987. In the interest of completeness, ISBN 0 521 26438 3.

from page 365:

_A planning myth_

Probably the best-known myth in the history of language planning is the story that German nearly became the national language of the US in the 18th century, losing to English by only one vote in the legislature (the "Muhlenberg" legend). In fact, all that was involved was a request, made by a group of Virginia Germans, to have certain laws issued in German _as well as_ in Englih. The proposal was rejected by one vote, apparently cast by a German-speaking Lutheran clergyman, Frederick Muhlenberg (1750-1801). But the general status of English as the majority language was never in doubt. (After S.B. Heath and F. Mandabach, 1983.)

[End quote]

Just to show that i did my homework, the paper referred to is: Heath, S.B., and Mandabach, F. 1983. Language status decisions and the law in the United States. In J. Cobarrubias and J.A. Fishman (eds.), _Progress in language planning: international perspectives_ (Berlin: Mouton), 87-105.

-Cindy Kandolf
cindy@solan.unit.no
Trondheim, Norway


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