English is not the official language of the United States, because the United States has no official language.

English is the official language (or one of the official languages) of about 75% of the states, and of Puerto Rico. Rassmussen Reports found in a survey taken earlier this year that 73% of respondents thought English should be the national language. If the United States had a national language, it would probably be English.

But we do not have a national language.

The 10th Amendment

First, how can it be that most of the states have English as their official language, but the nation as a whole does not? That’s easy: the 10th Amendment to the Constitution says that anything the U.S. Constitution doesn’t talk about is left up to the states. Since the U.S. Constitution has nothing to say about an official language, states get to make their own decisions on that question.

Robert A Stribley recently wrote about this topic, and reminded us that “In 2012, Rick Santorum insisted that Puerto Rico should adopt English as its official language as a condition for statehood. An odd demand, considering the United States itself has never made English its official national language.”

An especially odd demand since English already is an official language of Puerto Rico, along with Spanish.

But no language is specified in the U.S. Constitution, and we have never had an official national language.

That’s not to say that there haven’t been attempts to make that happen. For example, in 2019 a Republican from Iowa introduced a bill “To declare English as the official language of the United States, to establish a uniform English language rule for naturalization, and to avoid misconstructions of the English language texts of the laws of the United States, pursuant to Congress’ powers to provide for the general welfare of the United States and to establish a uniform rule of naturalization under article I, section 8, of the Constitution.”

Here’s Article I, Section 8:

Article I

  • Section 8

    • Clause 1
    • The Congress shall have Power To lay and collect Taxes, Duties, Imposts and Excises, to pay the Debts and provide for the common Defence and general Welfare of the United States; but all Duties, Imposts and Excises shall be uniform throughout the United States;


It seems to be mostly about taxes, but we won’t argue that Congress should not work toward the general Welfare of the United States.

The findings for the bill — that is, the facts supporting it — are these:

The Congress finds and declares the following:

In other words, states get to declare their own official language(s). The bill goes on to state that English should become the official language of the U.S. and that there should be an English language fluency requirement for immigrants to become citizens. This bill had 27 cosponsors, all Republicans, but it died in committee.

Congressional votes

There is an urban legend that Congress voted on whether to declare German or English the national language of the United States in 1795. That is not true. There was no such vote, though there was a petition from German-speaking Americans asking that laws be translated into German for them. There is no record of the vote on that issue, but many things in the United States, from street signs to ballots, are translated by law into widely-spoken languages other than English.

There have been many more discussions and votes in Congress on this topic through the centuries.

In 2006, Rep. Woolsey argued against English as an official national language, saying,”We already know…that English is not under attack, that it is overwhelmingly the language of our government; that immigrants want to learn English; and that instead of promoting unnecessary divisive policies, we ought to simply help immigrants to learn English, because we will hear in a few minutes, according to the most recent census, that 92 percent of our population speaks English.”

He went on to say, “In the case of a natural disaster or a terrorist attack or a health crisis, it is critical that government be able to communicate quickly and effectively with the entire public. For example, if there is a pandemic flu and non-English speakers cannot understand the government’s instructions, everyone will be at risk.”

In the same discussion, Mauro Mujica, the head of an English-only organization, took a different position, saying, “But we have also been negligent in our promotion of English as the unifying language of our nation. We have never been, and no serious person is suggesting that we become an English-only nation. But the American people decidedly do not want us to become an English-optional nation.”

This patriotic feeling that English unifies the nation is the usual argument given for English as a national language, but in the same Congressional debate, John Trasvina, Interim President and General Counsel, Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, pointed out that this argument sometimes covers up the truth. “In the late 1910’s, amidst nationwide anti-German sentiment fueled by World War I, several states passed English-only laws that sought to restrict the use of foreign languages in public. The most famous example was a 1918 edict by Governor William Harding of Iowa, which became known as the Babel Proclamation, and outlawed the use of foreign languages in all schools, all public addresses, all conversation in public places, on trains, and over the telephone…Although proponents of anti-German laws of that time portrayed them as efforts to have “a united people, united in ideals, language and patriotism, these efforts had unmistakably xenophobic roots.”

The Founding Fathers

It is easier to see the xenophobic roots of people in the past. But the truth is, the earliest citizens of the Unites States of America spoke many different languages: European languages, African languages, indigenous languages, and Middle Eastern languages.

The Englishmen who wrote the Declaration of Independence were aware that their fellow American spoke other languages, and they could have chosen to declare a national language. They didn’t.

One, Benjamin Franklin, wrote about his concerns that German, the second most popular language in the states at the time, might overtake English. Yet he was instrumental in establishing the first German-language college in the U.S., Franklin & Marshall College, in 1787. It is clear that the framers of the Constitution did not choose an official national language because they valued the diversity of their multilingual nation.

So should we.



2 Responses

  1. Language fluency does not necessarily equal language proficiency and vice-versa. English proficiency is measured in PR schools through standardized tests. Can these tests scores improve- absolutely!

    Spanish and English language proficiency provide better domestic and international employment opportunities.

    PR Statehood with a proficient bilingual workforce will enhance our nation’s role domestically and internationally.

    On the other hand, the language discussion needs to move beyond mere fluency or proficiency. We are a nation of immigrants with extensive language and cultural diversity.

    Our diverse unity is achieved through the common bond of understanding our nation’s history – how we came to be- and our ability to communicate in one common language – English.

    How can P Rico’s public school English language education improve? – Governor Pedro Pierluisi, should take a strong stance in fixing the PR Department of education. Federal funds should be used wisely and ethically.

    In just 12 years – the PR school system can transition to an all English curriculum. Grades – kindergarten to first grade can immediately start an all English curriculum and continue each year until their High school graduation. Those older and already in the system- can have additional classes to optimize their language skills, coordinated with teachers training. Top USA states have strong public educational systems and lower poverty rates.

    Optimizing PR public school education is not just about achieving Statehood. It is about securing P Rico’s economic future and its workforce, within the current dynamic global socio-economic restructuring.

  2. Did you know: Hispanic Ancestors-the 1st Governor of Puerto Rico came from Puerto Rico to our now diverse USA (in 1513)–107 years before the Pilgrims…; Spanish has been spoken in our now USA for about 250 years before English…; today, only Mexico has more spanish speakers than our diverse USA, followed by Colombia, Spain… Please, see below historical facts:
    -Countries with the most Spanish speakers-
    1. Mexico: 130 million speakers.
    2. United States: 57+ million speakers.
    3. Colombia: 52 million speakers.
    4. Spain: 48 million speakers.
    5. Argentina: 46 million speakers.
    6. Peru: 33 million speakers.
    7. Venezuela: 33 million speakers.
    8. Chile: 20 million speakers.
    Besides: *US* Hispanic-Puerto Rican Legacy-Macro History Excerpts**
    Ante la Historia–US Hispanic-Puerto Rican good contributions to our noble USA–dates to the initial settlement of our now USA by their Spanish and Other Ancestors that– first came from Puerto Rico to Florida (in 1513)-107 years before the Pilgrims; helped develop our noble USA! Some historic FACTS-
    Puerto Rico Natives (Tainos/Arawack)- Named Puerto Rico- Boriken—“Land of the Valiant Lord”… left traces in the now US before Christopher Columbus first Trip to Western Hemisphere..
    Christopher Columbus and Crew came to the Western Hemisphere on 12 October 1492 (first landed in San Salvador…); during his 2d Trip (19 November 1493), he found Puerto Rico (Boriken). But, in his four Trips… he never touched the continental landmass of the now USA…
    Juan Ponce de León (1st Governor Puerto Rico-Boriken) (March 1513) – organized an expedition from the now US Territory of Puerto Rico, and set sail with Crew (included Taínos, Blacks and Women) to find what the Natives called Bimini (now Florida, USA)… *1513 (April 2)-In the Spring they arrived at a verdant land which he named “La Florida”… (This dangerous voyage into the unknown put Florida on the Map for others to follow; help develop our USA…)
    • Puerto Rico was the historic 1st Gateway to the European settlement of Florida-which opened the doors to the advanced civilized settlement of our now USA–107 years before the Pilgrims landed…
    • Spanish-Hispanic Ancestors are part of Hispanic legacy, roots, & heritage; made many positive contributions to our now USA; overtime brought Christianity, Horses, Cattle, Sheep, Pigs, Oranges…; the Spanish language (the US is the 2d largest Spanish Speaking Country in the World); first Thanksgiving; and other good things to “America” (name set by Hispanic Ancestors)…
    • The Hispanic-Puerto Rican Legacy– complements the worthy contributions of Natives and Immigrants in the forming and development of our now beloved and noble USA…
    1508 Ponce de Leon founded “Caparra” the first settlement in Puerto Rico, but, in 1509 it was moved… to what today is San Juan (founded in 1521)—the oldest City under the US Flag, and where he is buried…
    1565: St. Augustine (2d Oldest City under US Flag) – was founded by: Spanish Admiral Pedro Menendez de Aviles…
    1585-1587: Roanoke Island, North Carolina- is the English first Colony in our now USA. But, before arrival, the Colonist in 5 Ships, faced a severe storm and took shelter in Puerto Rico which hosted the first English Settlement and Fort in the New World), from where they later left to North Carolina…; disappeared without trace; became known as the “Lost Colony”…
    1607: The English stopped in Puerto Rico on their way to Jamestown, which was later abandoned…
    1620: The Pilgrims arrive at Plymouth Harbor/Rock (Massachusetts) on the Mayflower…
    1776-: US Hispanic Ancestors (Puerto Ricans, Mexicans, Cubans…)-supported the US Continental Army and fought (for our USA) in the Revolutionary War against the British. General Galvez (Governor of Louisiana-now 13 US States), and General Castro (later Governor of Puerto Rico)—provided support; bravely fought in the important Battles of Pensacola (Florida), Louisiana, Missouri, etc.; helped the “US Minutemen Citizen-Soldiers” win the US War of Independence.
    US Hispanic Ancestors, help develop what today is California, Texas, Florida, Louisiana, and 10 Other US States, among many other positive contributions…
    SPAIN—provided support to the US Continental Army; ; lent the rebelling Colonists, the use of its ports (including Puerto Rico) through which flowed financial aid, food, and arms; sent Hispanic Ancestors to fight in support of US Independence (to include a contingent from Puerto Rico) for US Freedom…
    FLORIDA: Many Flags have flown over Florida: Spanish, British, French, Florida, & now the US Flag!
    PR-1898: The US invades and takes possession of the US Territory of Puerto Rico … Puerto Ricans: are the 2d largest US Hispanic Ethnic Group; are about 10 million strong (PR: 3.3M/ STATES: 6.7M).
    • Fellow US Citizens-American Veterans in the US Territory of Puerto Rico (with more US Citizens than 22 States)-since 1898 have: NO Federal “consent of the governed” (NO VOTE for US President; NO just Representation in Congress; NO Parity in Federal Law/Programs/Funds; NO permanent US Citizenship…–which is against the Spirit of our US Constitution (“WE THE PEOPLE”)…Republican form of Government (a “Representative Democracy” with “consent of the governed”)….
    • Puerto Ricans have sacrificed; shed sweat, blood, and tears; fought in the War of Independence…; WW-I, WW-II, Korea, Cold War, Vietnam, War on Terrorism…).
    • The US 65th Infantry Regiment-The Borinqueneers (from PR)-are recipients of the Congressional Gold Medal-highest honor US Congress, with US President, can bestow and other Combat awards
    • The Time is now for Equal Civil Rights for all, not just for some! The Federal Government must let Puerto Ricans VOTE on the only non-territorial Options: STATEHOOD vs INDEPENDENCE…
    SUMMARY: Our good Natives, Immigrants, and Ancestors helped forge what America is today—the best in the imperfect annuals of Human History! Let’s learn from the past; ensure FAIR Treatment-Equal Rights for ALL “WE THE PEOPLE” as we make things better for the Good of All: Family, Community, USA, and Humanity! Evolution with peace builds upon the Good; Revolution with violence destroys all!
    US President R. Reagan said: “Through the years, Hispanic American Citizens have risen to the call of duty in defense of liberty and freedom. Their bravery is well known and has been demonstrated time and again, dating back to the aid rendered by General Bernardo de Galvez during the American Revolution”.
    *NOTE: WE live in an imperfect World that together we make better! But, there is the Good, Wrong, Bad, and Evil in every Group! We applaud the good; condemn individual bad actions! We should NOT discriminate; Generalize or Stereotype any Group for the sins of one or a few… History can’t be revised or erased…!
    (Dennis O. Freytes—Florida Veterans Hall of Fame; Professor (UPR)/Commander USA Officer School)
    *Juan Ponce De Leon and Crew sailed from Puerto Rico to our now USA-1513:

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