Common Myths about Official English

By Dr. Rosalie Pedalino Porter
Published in The Social Contract
Volume 23, Number 1 (Fall 2012)
Issue theme: "Victims of Immigration"

Fact: Congress never voted on a proposal to make German the official language. On January 13, 1795, Congress considered a proposal to print the federal laws in German as well as English. This proposal was not to give German official status. During the debate, a motion to adjourn failed by 1 vote. There was never a vote on an actual bill.

Fact: Official English affects all government documents, proceedings, and actions. Official English gives no person the right to demand government services in a language other than English and more importantly, if there is a conflict between an English version of a document and the same document in another language; the English version controls.

Fact:Any official English bill promoted by ProEnglish would provide a specific exception for “actions that protect the rights of ... criminal defendants.”

Fact: Any official English bill promoted by ProEnglish would provide a specific exemption for “actions ... that protect the public health.”

Fact: The enactment of official English would not affect the teaching of foreign languages. ProEnglish encourages the teaching of foreign languages in the education system. All official English legislation that ProEnglish promotes provides an exception for the teaching of languages.

Fact: Official English refers only to government actions and not the language spoken in the home or in places of worship. The Constitution guarantees free speech and religious freedom. That would not be affected by official English.

Fact: Ninety-two percent of the world’s countries have at least one official language.

Fact: 91 percent of foreign-born Latino immigrants agree that learning English is essential to succeed in the U.S. and more than 2/3 of Hispanics favor making English the official language of the U.S.

Fact: The Founding Fathers did not enact English as the official language because they didn’t need to. All 55 delegates to the Convention spoke English and an overwhelming majority of the American population did as well. They just took it for granted that English was the official language and saw no need for legislation.

Myth: In 1776, German came within one vote of becoming America’s official language instead of English.

Myth: Official English is merely symbolic and has no effect.

Myth: Official English would deny criminal defendants of their right to an interpreter.

Myth: An informational form regarding the outbreak of the bird flu or another disease would violate official English.

Myth: Official English would prohibit the teaching of foreign languages in schools.

Myth: Official English would prohibit the speaking of languages other than English in homes and religious settings.

Myth: Most nations have not declared an official language.

Myth: Most immigrants oppose official English legislation.

Myth: At the Constitutional Convention, the Founding Fathers debated and decided against making English the official language.

About the author

Dr. Rosalie Pedalino Porter, chairman of the board of directors of ProEnglish, testified before a hearing of the Subcommittee on the Constitution of the Committee on the Judiciary in the U.S. House of Representatives, in favor of H.R. 997, the “English Language Unity Act,” August 2, 2012. Suzanne Bibby, Director of Government Relations for ProEnglish, contributed research and writing to Dr. Porter’s testimony.

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