“For Puerto Rico to come in as a state,” said former senator Rick Santorum, “I have no doubt that one of the requirements would be that English would be universal here on the island.”
In this video clip from El Nuevo Dia, Santorum does not back down from his claim that he thinks Congress will require Puerto Rico to become more comfortable with English, but he doesn’t repeat his earlier claim that this is a matter of federal law. He also says he sees this need for English as an opportunity.
This doesn’t sound as bad as the remark that brought Santorum’s views on English and Puerto Rico into the limelight:
Like any other state, there has to be compliance with this and any other federal law… And that is that English has to be the principal language. There are other states with more than one language such as Hawaii but to be a state of the United States, English has to be the principal language.
The problem with this claim is that it isn’t true. The United States — unlike Puerto Rico and a number of states — does not have an official language. Many states, including New Mexico and Louisiana, did not have a majority of English speakers when they became states.
Spanish speaking states
Puerto Rico would not be the state with the highest number of Spanish speakers if statehood were granted today. It might have the highest proportion of Spanish speakers of any of the 51 states — but there are many counties in the U.S. with equal concentrations of Spanish speakers.
Both English and Spanish are official languages in Puerto Rico. English is widely spoken in Puerto Rico, as it is in the world at large, but there are in fact no legal requirements for states to use English. In order to qualify for statehood, a territory must have a large enough settled population and a constitution, but there are no language requirements.
Santorum was simply mistaken.
But the claim continues to be made in social media and elsewhere.
Some who oppose statehood try to scare Puerto Ricans by saying that Puerto Rico would lose the Spanish language after statehood. There is no evidence that this would be true. Spanish is spoken by millions on the U.S. mainland. It is the second most frequently spoken language in the U.S. after English. It will not prevent Puerto Rico from becoming a state.