Friday, May 18, 2012

What is the Official Language of the United States of America?


If English is your answer, sorry, you are wrong. If your answer is American English, you are still wrong! English is not the official language of the United States of America. In fact, the US has no official language, at least on the federal level. One would think that English, which is undoubtedly the lingua franca of business and global politics today, is by default the most powerful nation's official language. But it is not. There has never been one, and will probably never will be, at least in the near foreseeable future.

Why is this so? One theory is because it goes against the spirit on which the US was founded on. America is a country of immigrants of different races, religions, political beliefs, customs, traditions, and of course, languages. The Constitution of the US protects the freedoms of its citizens on many levels including their individuality and diversity. And language forms a big part of every citizen.

If Columbus discovered America, why isn't Spanish the official language?

The first Europeans who set foot on the Americas (North and South American continents) were not the Spaniards or the Portuguese. Vikings already found themselves in Canada even before the Spanish explorers sent their vast ships to find more lands and riches to conquer. But it was the voyages of the Spanish backed Christopher Columbus and his crew that were credited with the discovery of the Americas.

So why isn't Spanish the official language of the United States? Because Christopher Columbus' discovery merely paved the way for other European explorers to come to what was then known as the New World. French, Dutch, Swedes and British explorers and colonizers found themselves on the shores of what is now the United States and the other countries in the same geographical location.

Spain pretty much conquered South and Central America plus areas of North America specifically the Great Plains, the areas around the Grand Canyon and parts of the Mississippi River. The French found themselves in parts of Canada and eventually in Louisiana and in small villages along the rivers of Illinois as well as the Mississippi. Dutch colonies were in the Hudson River Valley.

And when these European explorers and colonizers came, they brought with them their own culture and language.

The influence of the British

The English colonizers occupied the eastern seacoast. They brought with them their culture and traditions, their way of government and politics, their religion and their language, among other things. However, the colonists were not in British Isles anymore so they had to adapt to the political, social and economic environment they found themselves in. But they remained subjects of the Crown.

The British government back in Europe eventually lost its hold on the colonists for a number of reasons. And, by 1776, thirteen colonies, namely Connecticut, Delaware, Georgia, Maryland, Massachusetts Bay, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island and Providence Plantations, South Carolina and Virginia, declared their independence from the mighty British Empire. This paved the way for the creation of the independent nation now known as the United States of America.

Most of the country's founding fathers were of English lineage and thus spoke the language of the British Empire. So the Constitution of the United States was written in 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.

What's the difference?

American English is not too far from British English. There are some differences in accent, pronunciation, punctuation, vocabulary, grammar and style. When it comes to writing, it is in the spelling of certain words that you can really see the difference between the two.

Words that usually end in "-our" in the Queen's English sometimes end only in "-or" when written in New World English. Some examples are: humour-humor, rumour-rumor, labour-labor and honour-honor. A select number of words ending with "-re" in British English end in "-er" instead in American English. A few examples are fibre-fiber, litre-litre, metre-meter, centre-center, and theatre-theater. The British use "-se" while the Americans use "-ze" in some words. Examples of this are analyse-analyze, colonise-colonize, organise-organize and realise-realize. These are only three examples of spelling differences between the two types of English language.

Where is English as an official language?

On the federal level, the US does not recognize English as the official language. However, on the state level, English has been named as an official language. Out of the 50 American states, the following 28 states have designated English as their official language:

Alabama
Alaska
Arizona
Arkansas
California
Colorado
Florida
Georgia
Hawaii (also lists Hawaiian as an official language)
Idaho
Illinois
Indiana
Iowa
Kansas
Kentucky
Mississippi
Montana
Nebraska
New Hampshire
North Carolina
North Dakota
Oklahoma
South Carolina
South Dakota
Tennessee
Utah
Virginia
Wyoming

Languages in America today

English is the most spoken language in the country according to census reports. More than 80% of the total population list English as their mother language. Although there have been many attempts in the past to make English, that is, American English, the official language of the USA. Such attempts have never been successful.

Nipping at the heels of English is Spanish with more than 12% of Americans speaking this language. This is not surprising at all due to the history of the US Apart from the many Spanish-speaking communities that have long been part of the America immigrants from Spanish speaking countries south of the border continue to migrate into what these immigrants view as the land of opportunity.

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

The original languages of America, the Native American languages, 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.

America is THE melting pot of races. The Statue of Liberty has stood proudly for many years to welcome people of all cultures, races, and religions. The country prides itself with championing individual liberties and of being stalwarts for culture diversity. Although English is the most widely used language in the country, the country remains multilingual. For now, only time will tell if English will become the official language of the mightiest nation on the planet.

1 comment:

Day Translations said...

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