official language of the united states of america

An official language refers to the language (or multiple languages) that a country’s government uses for official business. The practice of adopting — or not adopting — an official language can become highly controversial. One would think that English, which is undoubtedly the lingua franca of business and global politics today, is by default America’s official language. But it is not.

Why not English? One theory is because it goes against the spirit on which the United States was founded. Immigrants of all races, faiths, political beliefs, customs, traditions, and, of course, languages make up America.

So, if it is not English, what then is the official language of the United States of America?

Why not Spanish?

The first Europeans who set foot in the Americas were not the Spaniards or the Portuguese. Even before the Spanish explorers sailed their large ships to acquire additional territories and riches to conquer, Vikings from Scandinavia had arrived in Canada. The expeditions of Christopher Columbus and his crew, backed by the Spanish, are credited with the discovery of the Americas.

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A woman wears an American flag at the 2018 Women’s March in Phoenix, Arizona, January 23, 2018/Unsplash.

So, if Columbus discovered America, why isn’t Spanish the country’s official language? Because Christopher Columbus’ discovery just paved the way for subsequent European explorers to visit the New World as America was then known.

Explorers and colonizers from France, the Netherlands, Sweden, and the United Kingdom arrived on the coasts of what is now the United States and other countries in the same geographical region.

Spain essentially conquered South and Central America, as well as parts of North America, including the Great Plains, the Grand Canyon region, and parts of the Mississippi River. The French settled in portions of Canada and, eventually, Louisiana, where they established small settlements along the Illinois and Mississippi rivers. The Hudson River Valley was home to Dutch colonies.

When European explorers and colonizers arrived, they brought their own culture and language with them.

The influence of the British

The English colonizers settled in the eastern seacoast. They came with their culture and customs, as well as their form of governance and politics, religion, and language, with them. However, because the colonists were no longer in the British Isles, they had to adjust to the new political, social, and economic environment. They remained, however, subjects of the British Crown.

For a variety of reasons, the British administration in Europe gradually lost control of the colonists.

By 1776, thirteen colonies had declared their independence from the enormous British Empire: Connecticut, Delaware, Georgia, Maryland, Massachusetts Bay, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island and Providence Plantations, South Carolina, and Virginia. This prepared the path for the formation of the independent nation that is now known as the United States of America.

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President Abraham Lincoln with African Americans outside of the White House, c.1863/Bettmann Archive/Getty Images.

The majority of the country’s founding fathers were of English ancestry and, thus, spoke the British Empire’s language.

As a result, the United States Constitution was written in English.

Following the nation’s formation, a constant influx of people from Britain migrated to the newly constituted country. The English language extended across the country as the country grew, even while other languages remained to be spoken across the country.

The original English language brought to the United States by British colonizers and immigrants evolved into what is today known as American English, as opposed to British English.

After the establishment of the nation, there was a steady drove of people from Britain migrating into the newly formed country. As the nation grew, the English language also spread throughout the country even as other languages continued to be spoken throughout the United States.

The original English language that the British colonizers and immigrants brought to the US evolved into what is now referred to as American English as opposed to British English.

Difference between American English and British English

The pronunciation of American English is similar to that of British English. Accent, pronunciation, punctuation, vocabulary, grammar, and style are all different. When it comes to writing, the distinction between the two is most noticeable in the spelling of specific terms.

When written in American English, words that generally end in “-our” in British English may simply end in “-or.” Humour-humor, rumour-rumor, labour-labor, and honour-honor are some instances. In American English, a small number of words that end in “-er”, end in “-re” in British English. “Fiber-fibre, liter-litre, meter-metre, center-centre, and theater-theatre are a few instances.

In several terms, the British use “-se,” while the Americans use “-ze.” Analyse-analyze, colonise-colonize, organise-organize, and realise-realize are some examples.

Why not English as an official language?

In 1780, the Continental Congress rejected John Adam’s plan to make English the official language of the United States, calling it “undemocratic and a threat to individual liberty.”

Not only did the colonists speak a variety of local languages at the time, but they also frequently spoke many languages. Thus, choosing just one of the numerous spoken languages wasn’t a popular or even essential notion.

Unfortunately, the United States’ linguistic skills have deteriorated throughout time, with only 20% of Americans speaking a language other than English. This contrasts with the 54% of Europeans who claim to speak two or more languages.

As a result, the United States does not recognize English as an official language at the federal level. However, English has been designated as an official language at the state level. Out of the 50 American states, Alabama, Alaska, and 26 other states have designated English as their official language.

Languages in America today

According to U.S Census data, English is the most widely spoken language in the United States. More than 80% of the population claims to speak English as their first language. Although several attempts have been made in the past to declare English, specifically American English, the official language of the United States, none of them have succeeded.

Spanish is the second most widely spoken language in the United States, with over 12% of the population speaking it. Due to the history of the United States, this is not surprising.

Apart from the many Spanish-speaking communities that have long been part of the United States, immigrants from Spanish-speaking countries south of the border continue to migrate into what these immigrants see as the land of opportunity.

Some of the other languages spoken in the United States include: Chinese, Tagalog (from the Philippines), French, Vietnamese, German, Korean, Russian, Arabic, Italian, and Portuguese.

The Native American languages, which are believed to be the original languages of America, are only spoken by a number of small communities spread out in the country.

In the United States, more than 330 languages are either spoken or signed by its current population.

Back to the question, what then is the official language of the United States of America? The simple answer is NONE. Yea, that’s right. The United States as a country has no known official language because Uncle Sam is a melting pot of all races.

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A flag of the United States of America/Unsplash.

The Statue of Liberty that has stood proudly for many years welcomes people of all cultures, races, and religions to America. The country prides itself on championing individual liberties and being a stalwart for cultural diversity.

Despite the fact that English is the most widely spoken language in the United States, it remains multilingual for now. Only time will tell whether English will become the official language of the world’s most powerful nation.

Do you think English will eventually become the official language of the United States? Let us know in the comments.

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Sources

Kaur, H. (2018, June 15). FYI: English isn’t the official language of the United States. Retrieved from https://edition.cnn.com/2018/05/20/us/english-us-official-language-trnd/index.html

Racoma, D. (2012, May 18). What is the Official Language of the United States of America? Retrieved from http://www.thelanguagejournal.com/2012/05/what-is-official-language-of-united.html

Straub, J. (2020, November 10). What is the official language of The United States? Retrieved from https://blog.lingoda.com/en/what-is-the-official-language-of-the-united-states/

Yates, Y. (2017, February 26). 7 Things You Didn’t Know About The United States’ Official Language. Retrieved from https://www.babbel.com/en/magazine/what-is-the-united-states-official-language

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