What Is the Official Language Of The U.S - Top 10 Most Common Languages
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What is an official language?
The term official language does not describe the language spoken by majority in a country, region, or state. It refers to the government or state language as it is used in judication, legislation and administration. Around 180 countries in the world have an official language and more than one hundred recognise more than one official language. However, the USA is part of neither group.
What is the official language of the United States?
Interesting Facts about the official language of the United States:
*The United States has no official language.
*English is spoken by the overwhelming majority of Americans and Over half the states in the U.S. have made English an official language: Although there are no laws stating that English is the official language at the federal level, 31 states have their own laws proclaiming it as the official language on the state level, which usually just means it has to be used for government communications.
*Spanish is the second-most spoken language in the US after English.
*At least 350 languages are spoken in the US today.
*Speaking a foreign language in public was once illegal in parts of the U.S
*Among native English speakers, there’s a ton of variation in the language: There are at least 24 dialects of American English spoken in the United States, according to linguist Robert Delaney, who developed a map of the United States by regional dialect.
Fact: The US has no official language
It’s true, there’s no official language of the United States at the federal level. The debate about whether or not to adopt an official language has been going on since at least the 1750s. Still, the vast majority of people in the United States speak English (about 300 million), which makes it the country’s de facto (in practice, instead of in law) official language.
Other than campaigners for the English Only movement, and a handful of politicians, most Americans continue going about their daily lives blissfully unaware that English isn’t the official language of their government, and who can blame them? After all, other than the changes to official U.S. documents, the fact that English isn’t the official language hasn’t stopped English from being the dominant language of the United States.
|There’s long been a movement to make English our official language. It just keeps failing. In the 1750s, Philadelphians fought over keeping both English and German on street signs to accommodate immigrants. The German speakers only lost that battle with the advent of World War I. But we’ve always had populations which speak other languages in the United States, too, such as the French in Louisiana and Spanish speakers across the country, too. I live in Brooklyn, which was a Dutch settlement. The southernmost settlement of Manhattan was originally dubbed New Amsterdam. And, of course, we should remember that none of the original inhabitants of North America spoke English. For millennia. So, the United States has always been a multilingual nation.|
A Short History of Language in the US
In 1780, John Adam’s proposal to the Continental Congress that English be made the official language of the U.S. was deemed, “undemocratic and a threat to individual liberty.” At the time, not only did the colonists have diverse native languages, but they also commonly spoke multiple languages, so picking just one language of the many spoken wasn’t a popular idea or even particularly necessary. Sadly, the language speaking capabilities of the U.S. have diminished over time, with only 18% of Americans speaking a language other than English. This is compared to 53% of Europeans, who report speaking two or more languages.
While English has come to dominate the U.S., the Government has still never declared an official language, despite the attempts of numerous politicians after John Adams. This is because the U.S. has always been a multilingual nation, though this hasn’t stopped many states from declaring English as their official language. However, Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 is in place to protect the rights of individual taxpayers who don’t speak fluent English. In order to receive federal funds, states must make sure that vital documents are made available in every language spoken by people receiving benefits subsidized by the Federal Government.
How many states in the US recognize English as an official language?
Over half the states in the U.S. have made English an official language
Although there are no laws stating that English is the official language at the federal level, 31 states have their own laws proclaiming it as the official language on the state level, which usually just means it has to be used for government communications.
|The 30 states with English as the only official language are: |
Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New Hampshire, North Carolina, North Dakota, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Utah, Virginia and Wyoming.
All US territories have official languages. Puerto Rico has declared Spanish the principal language, but both English and Spanish are official languages. In the US Virgin Islands, only English is official, while American Samoa has English and Samoan. Guam has English and Chamorro has official languages and in the Northern Mariana Islands, English, Chamorro and Carolinian are official.
Three states have other official languages in addition to English
Hawaii recognized Hawaiian Pidgin English as an official language in 2015. Since then, South Dakota made Sioux an official language, and Alaska added more than 20 indigenous languages.
|Speaking a foreign language in public was once illegal in parts of the US |
During and after World War I, when anti-German sentiment was high in the United States, parts of the Midwest made it a crime to speak German and other foreign languages in public. And there were several other periods when speaking a foreign language in the United States was considered dangerous.
|English is the Official Language of 67 Countries |
400 million people around the world speak English as their first language. Not only that, but English is listed as one of the official languages in more than a quarter of the countries in the world. That’s a lot of new people you can communicate with just by improving one language!
English is the Most Widely Spoken Language in the World
What’s more, English is the rest of the world’s “second language”. While Chinese Mandarin and Spanish are the mother tongues of more people overall, most people in the world choose to learn some English after their native language. In fact, one in five people on the planet speaks or understand at least a little bit of English.
This makes English one of the most useful languages you can learn. After all, you can’t learn all 6,500 languages in the world, but at least you will be able to communicate with people from all different countries using English.
Melting pot of languages
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There may be no official language, but there are at least 350 different languages spoken in the United States. After English, the top five in terms of native speakers are Spanish, Chinese (including Cantonese, Mandarin and other varieties), French (and French Creole), Tagalog and Vietnamese. Note: this list is likely to change after the 2020 Census.
Even among native English speakers, there’s a ton of variation in the language
There are at least 24 dialects of American English spoken in the United States, according to linguist Robert Delaney, who developed a map of the United States by regional dialect. Delaney writes that a dialect has its “own grammar, vocabulary, syntax, and common expressions as well as pronunciation rules,” which set it apart from an accent, which refers only to the way words are pronounced.
Top most common languages in the USA
According to data based on research by the American Community Survey and published by the US Census Bureau, these are the most common languages spoken in the USA: between 290 and 300 million people speak English, while around 230 to 235 million only speak English at home. Around 60 million speak a language other than English at home.
Top 10 most common languages in the USA
English: 290-300 million speakers (230-235 English only)
Spanish: ~42 million speakers
Chinese (incl. Mandarin, Cantonese and Hokkien): ~3.5 million speakers
Tagalog (incl. Filipino): ~1.75 million speakers
Vietnamese: ~1.5 million speakers
Arabic: ~1.25 million speakers
French: ~1.2 million speakers
Korean: ~1.1 million speakers
Russian: ~0.95 million speakers
German: ~0.92 million speakers
The English Language Unity Act
The English Language Unity Act is a bill seeking to establish English as the US official language on the federal level. Its first version was introduced in 2005 and would require functions, proceedings and publication of federal and state government to be in English.
The bill never became law, though it passed the House of Representatives in 1999. In 2005, a version garnered 164 sponsors in the House, but the bill died then and again in 2007 with 153 cosponsors. In 2017, House Resolution 997 had the support of 73 representatives. Its senate companion bill had seven senators supporting it, again not enough to pass into law.
To this day, there is no federal law in the United States of America declaring English or any other other language as official on a national level.
| German was never under consideration to be an official language |
There’s a compelling story that German was once “one vote away” from becoming the official language of the United States, but it’s a myth.
According to an urban legend, in 1776, a decision to make German instead of English the official language of the USA hinged on only one vote. This is a myth, but it has various kernels of truth.
Roughly 17% of US-Americans have German forefathers. And there was a vote with a close result, but it didn’t happen in 1776, and it wasn’t on any official language. In 1795, following Congressional debate, a vote ended 42 to 41 against publishing US laws translated into German or languages other than English.
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