offical U.S. language

Fred Shapiro fred.shapiro at YALE.EDU
Wed Jun 9 11:06:29 UTC 1999

On Tue, 8 Jun 1999, Bob Hamilton wrote:

> I am trying to find an answer to settle a argument between two friends.
> One contends that the American congress, after the revolutionary War voted
> to see if the offical national language would be English or French
> ...and English won by one vote

Let me quote a posting by Michael Palmer on another listserv (Palmer is
responding to the usual form of the myth, which involves German rather
than French):

This is a fallacy.  The question was not whether to make German the
official language of the United States but a petition (in 1794) by a
number of Germans residing in Augusta County, Virginia, to have "a certain
proportion [i.e., a certain number of copies] of the laws of the United
States ... printed in the German language" as well as in English, and it
was defeated not in an open vote but by the Parliamentary maneuvering of a
single man, the Speaker, F. A. C. Muhlenberg.  For a full account of this
"tradition," see Karl J. R. Arndt, "German as the Official Language of
the United States of America?" in Karl J. R. Arndt and May E. Olson, _The
German Language Press of the the Americas / Die deutschsprachige Presse
der Amerikas_, vol. 3, pp. 19-42.

Fred R. Shapiro                             Coeditor (with Jane Garry)
Associate Librarian for Public Services     TRIAL AND ERROR: AN OXFORD
  and Lecturer in Legal Research            ANTHOLOGY OF LEGAL STORIES
Yale Law School                             Oxford University Press, 1998
e-mail: fred.shapiro at               ISBN 0-19-509547-2

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