Why Doesn’t the United States Have an Official Language?
If I asked you, “Is there an official language of the United States?” you probably would say yes. Most people assume English is the official language. However, you would be incorrect! The United States does not have an official language. And it never has! So why isn’t there an official language? And will there ever be one?
What Is an Official Language?
An official language is a language that has special status in a country. The official language is used by the country’s government, courts, and schools. For example, the official language of France is French. On the other hand, India has two official languages: English and Hindi.
Understanding the Beginning of the United States in Relation to Language
The original 13 colonies that then became the first version of the United States were colonized by the British. The British colonists brought with them their customs and language. But the British were not the only people in the colonies. The 13 colonies were a melting pot, just as the United States is now. Colonists came from France, Germany, and Spain. Plus, there were already indigenous peoples in North America. From the very beginning of our history, Americans have spoken dozens of languages.
In 1780, John Adams presented a bill to Congress to make English the official language of the United States. However, the bill didn’t pass. Opponents of the bill said it was a threat to individual liberty. Other opponents said that making English the official language could offend our allies that helped us defeat the British. Furthermore, passing the bill could have alienated citizens that were not native English speakers. Finally, English was already used in government and as the de facto language of business. Many people didn’t see a need for it to be the official language. Since then, the United States has never declared an official language.
Linguistic Diversity in the United States
Over the years, many people have tried to declare English as the official language of the United States. However, the US has only gotten more linguistically diverse over the years. Today Americans speak more than 350 languages. The Federal government allows Americans to speak any language they want. This right is protected in the Constitution. Many scholars assert that English-only laws would violate due process and equal protection under the law.
The US Constitution allows for states to declare official languages. What does it mean to have an official language? 31 states have declared English their official language. Alaska, Hawaii and South Dakota also have indigenous languages declared as official languages. Alaska has more than 20 official languages!
Will There Ever Be an Official Language of the United States?
There probably will never be an official language of the United States. Since the 1780s hundreds of constitutional amendments have been written to make English the official language of the US. None of the amendments have ever passed. Most Americans don’t think about the official language often enough to force a change. In addition, about 14% of the American population speaks a language other than English. These non-native English speakers are proud of their languages and may not want to give them up.
One thing is very clear: America has always and will always be diverse. Americans will always speak many, many languages. With more than 20 years of experience, Acutrans provides language solutions to companies across the US. Our professional translators and interpreters help you communicate to your clients and reach new markets. Acutrans celebrates diversity and encourages everyone to embrace it. Our language solutions are here to help you. Check out our website for more information today!