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English in the U.S.

October 3, 2016 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 94, Issue 39

A recent letter to the editor puts forth the position that English is not the official language of the U.S. (C&EN, Sept. 26, page 3).

In 1795, there was, in fact, a debate about whether to publish government statutes in both German and English. This debate led to consideration of a bill to publish U.S. government documents, namely laws, in English only.

One proponent of the bill was Rep. William V. Murray, who opposed translating laws into German. He countered “that it had never been the custom in England to translate the laws into Welsh or Gaelic, and yet the great bulk of the Welsh, and some hundred thousands of people in Scotland, did not understand a word of English” (Annals of Congress, 3rd Cong., 2nd sess., 1228). As noted in Dennis Baron’s book “The English-Only Question: An Official Language for Americans?”: “The House finally approved publication of current and future federal statutes in English only. The bill was agreed to by the Senate and signed by President Washington the following month.”

My genetic makeup comes from mixed German and Scottish ancestry. My Deutsch folks arrived here in the early 1900s. The Scottish James MacNeal arrived here in 1772, fought in the revolution, and was a British prisoner of war for two years. For me, as someone of mixed non-English-language heritages, English is definitively the official and de facto language of these United States. There can be few more misguided manifestations of diversity thinking than to divide a nation by diverse languages, especially in a time when, perhaps more than ever, we need to be united.

My people learned English and assimilated into the American culture. Sure we have some surviving family history, words, names, phrases, and customs, but we are Americans. My people came here (and fought) to become Americans, and so we are to this day. I believe the same should be the case for anyone who comes here, no matter when, no matter who, no matter what or how.

As Washington approved of and signed the bill establishing our government’s official law language as English, I submit that English is and has been since Feb. 16, 1795, the official language for the laws and I dare say, our unique American culture, of these United States.

James R. MacNeal
Burton, Ohio



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