May 30, 2024


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Why is English not an official language of the United States?

Why is English not an official language of the United States?

l'English is often seen as an instrument of American power. But many people don't know that it's not even the official language of Uncle Sam's country. To our surprise, 78.3% of residents over the age of 5 speak English at home. Census Bureau.

The reasons for this choice (or non-choice) of the “Framers”, the authors of the Supreme Text (George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, etc.) are unclear. “Since the discussions took place in secret and one must rely on James Madison's informal notes, it is not clear that questions of language arose during the 1787 Philadelphia Convention,” he writes. James CrawfordWorks Director Language loyalty (Ed. University of Chicago Press, 1992). “But there is every reason to believe that early American leaders saw language laws as some sort of threat to civil liberties. »

A linguistic mosaic

In fact, at the end of the 18th centurye During the century, America, as it is today, was a linguistic mosaic shaped by successive waves of colonists, their slaves, and Native Americans. German, French, Spanish, Irish and Dutch were spoken, not to mention hundreds of indigenous languages ​​and African dialects. According to James Crawford, “bilingualism and often trilingualism” were common among the elite, who proudly displayed their mastery of several languages ​​(President Thomas Jefferson was proud to read French, Latin, and Italian, as well as Greek), as did the servants.

In this context, the “framers,” who had established individual liberty on a pedestal (at least for whites), probably thought that the national government should not dictate to the people what language they should speak. Also, the idea of ​​founding father John Adams Create a company Devoted to the development and preservation of American English, like our French Academy, was germinating in the bud a few years ago.

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Official recognition soon?

Of course, the absence of English in the Federal Constitution does not equate to absence of provisions. Since 1906, candidates for naturalization have had to pass A DReads and understands To become Americans. And most states—thirty-two out of fifty—list English as an official language in their laws. However, these are flexible.

The The Washington Post California states in its constitution that local lawmakers “shall take all necessary steps to ensure that the role of English as a common language…is preserved and preserved.” »Offers services and election documents in nine different languages, as well as a Spanish version of the administrative platform that issues driver's licenses and ID cards.

At the federal level, the debate over recognition of English resurfaces from time to time. In 2019, far-right Congressman Steve King (Iowa) proposed Legal proposal It aims to make it the official language of the United States. She was supported American EnglishA lobby created for this purpose in 1983 by a senator of Japanese descent.

In 2021, other Republican elected officials have done it again. in vain That year, the Rasmussen polling firm found that 73% of American adults They were in favor of recognizing English as the official language of the country.