Does the United States have An Official Language?
By: Ahtisham Khilji
When someone mentions the languages in the United States, English is the first language that pops up in your mind. True, English is the most prominent and widely spoken language in the USA. However, the real question is whether English is the official language of the USA or not. Moreover, does the US have an official language?
The United States has long been called a “melting pot” of languages. The reason is that the USA is a region of more than 350 different languages. Although English remains at the top of these languages, it still has not achieved the status of an official language of the USA.
So, which languages are commonly spoken in the USA? Read on to find out about this “melting pot” of languages.
A Brief History of the Languages in the USA
The USA was a “multilingual region” long before it existed. About 300 languages were already spoken by indigenous people residing in the region. The Europeans brought their native language along with them when they settled in the USA and Canada.
English was the most dominant language of American Independence in 1776. This English language was being spoken by a large majority of the people living in these original 13 colonies. However, many of these residents also spoke French, Dutch, and German. In fact, one of the main reasons behind not proclaiming English as the USA official language was that the founding fathers did not want to hurt the sentiments of other language speakers. Furthermore, these founding fathers did not believe the English language needed protection under the law.
As new immigrants entered the USA and the region extended beyond its previous territory, more languages became part of the common American language pie. For example, Spanish became a common language in the US with the addition of settlements that had formerly belonged to Spain and Mexico. Nevertheless, English has always been a dominant language in the USA and is still part of American culture today.
What is an Official Language?
Before we dwell on the US official language, let us look at what an official language is. The term “official language” refers to a language recognized as a government or state language. It is used in jurisdiction, legislation, and administration. However, most people in the country may not speak the official language. About 180 countries have an official language, and over 100 have more than one official language.
What is the official language of the US?
Many countries have one official language, and others have more than one. However, the USA is not a part of either group. This is because the USA has long been recognized as a “melting pot” of languages, with many diverse languages spoken in the region. Since the country had native residents from France, Spain, Portugal, and other countries, the founding fathers did not want to offend these people. The reason was that the ancestors of different nationalities had fought in the independence movements but were not native Americans.
Language of the US
The United States does not have an official language at the federal level in current times. However, English is a common and primary language for official documentation, publications, orders, legislation, rulings, and regulations. However, with increasing diversity in the US, state law has started to support printing documents in more than one language for official purposes.
Some states of the US have established English as the only official language at the state level. Others recognize English as an official language alongside other native language. About 30 US states have selected English as the only official language. Other states like Hawaii recognize the Hawaiian language besides English, while Alaska has many official languages native to the region.
One thing of importance is that all US territories have official languages. Puerto Rico has Spanish as the principal language, but English and Spanish are official languages. English is the sole official language in the US Virgin Islands, while American Samoa has English and Samoan as the official languages.
The Linguistic Diversity of the USA
Over the years, there have been efforts to declare English as the official language of the United States. However, the US has grown linguistically diverse over the years. Currently, Americans speak more than 350 different languages. The Federal Government respects and recognizes the right to allow its residents to talk about any language they want. This right is protected under the Constitution of the USA. Some scholars are of the view that English-only laws would be a violation of due process and equal protection under the law.
About 30 countries in the US have declared English as their official language. Some states like Alaska, South Dakota, and Hawaii have indigenous languages declared official languages. It may come as a surprise that Alaska has more than 20 official languages.
Top 10 Most Common Languages in the USA
The following languages are the most commonly spoken in the USA.
English is so widely spoken in the USA that it is often mistaken as the region's official language. However, the USA does not have any official language. English is the language of currency, laws, legislation, and business. Many states have English as the official language. There are various dialects of English spoken across the country with different accents.
The following most dominant language after English in the US is Spanish. There are estimated 41 million speakers of English across the country, and the Spanish culture is prevalent in different areas from California to New York. Spanish is currently the fastest-growing language in the US; some states are even named in Spanish. For example, Nevada, Los Angeles, El Paso, and Santa Ana.
The Chinese language, with its different variations, such as Mandarin, Hokkien, and Cantonese, is another important part of the US cultural fabric. There are approximately 3.5 million Chinese speakers in the US, and it is the 3rd most spoken language in the region. Cantonese is the most popular variant of the Chinese language spoken in the USA.
Tagalog is an immensely important language that forms a part of the US language pie. In fact, Tagalog is among the most popular languages spoken across the world. Originating in the Philippines, it has widely gained popularity as time progressed. An estimated 1.7 million speakers speak the Tagalog language in the USA.
The Vietnamese language is also a common language in the United States. The number of Vietnamese speakers has been growing in the US over the last few decades owing to immigration. Today, Vietnamese is the fifth most popular language in the US, with over 1.5 million speakers. The US has witnessed around a 500% increase in Vietnamese speakers since the 1980s.
6. Creole French and French
Since the early 1700s, French has been a common language spoken in the USA. At that time, French colonizers settled in the US and claimed regional lands. Although its popularity has dipped over the years, the French or the French Creole language is still the sixth most popular language in the United States.
Arabic is the seventh most spoken language in the USA, with around 1.2 million speakers.
Some states like Michigan and New York have higher concentrations of Arabic-speaking people and accordingly have the highest number of Arabic speakers aged five or above. The popularity of the Arabic language has continued to grow over the past few decades. It has increased by 29% from 2010 to 2014.
Korean is also another popular language in the USA, with about 1.1 million speakers throughout the US. It is one of the most popularly studied languages in the region. Korean culture has gained popularity over the past few decades, making it the 8th most popular language in the USA.
There are about 940,000 Russian speakers in the USA right now, which continues to increase due to migrations. Many Russians migrated to the US between the 1970s and 1990s, making the Russian language and culture popular in the region. The popularity of the Russian language continues to increase with increasing diversity.
German is the 10th most popular language in the US, with approximately 920,000 speakers. The German language came into the US region in the region's early years. While its popularity has fluctuated over the years, it is still quite popular in the region, especially in areas like Milwaukee.
The USA may be a melting pot of languages, but it does not have an official language. The vast diversity of languages in the US makes it hard to pinpoint any language as the official language. As time progresses, linguistic diversity in the region increases. Which language will assume the title of the official language of the USA remains to be seen.