How come German is not the Official language of the USA?

superdavid   Thu Jul 26, 2007 5:11 am GMT
According to the stats of US Census Bureau, Germans form the largest ethnic group in the United States.
In fact, more than 15% of the US citizens claim that they are German decendants.

French Canadians still stick to speaking French, and French is co-official language of Canada.
None the less, hardly any German American in the US speaks German.

Why did they lose their own language?
How come German is not the official language of the US despite the fact that German Americans form the largest ancestry group in the country?
OïL   Thu Jul 26, 2007 7:40 am GMT
- parce que dans ces stats, la catégorie 'Allemands' engloge tous les germanophones (y compris les Suisses alémaniques),
- tandis que sont distinguées les catégories 'Américains' (descendants de colons britanniques installés avant l'indépendance), 'Anglais', 'Ecossais', 'Gallois' et 'Irlandais'.

Il est hors de doute que l'élément britannique anglophone est, et a toujours été, dominant.

D'autre part, il y a le bénéfice du premier arrivant (ce qui fait que le Québec et de larges parties de l'Ontario et du Nouveau-Brunswick restent francophones).

Quand des immigrants arrivent individuellement, les uns après les autres, ils tendent à copier l'adaptation de leurs cousins arrivés avant eux et déjà en cours d'intégration. Ça fait une très puissante machine à assimiler.

Des individus (ou des familles) s'asimilent facilement. Des communautés, non. Raison pour laquelle l'allemand survit aux USA dans les petites communautés mennonites.

Conséquence: la plupart des descendant de Mexicains, Colombiens etc. s'assimileront très vite. Inversement, les communautés cubaines de Floride ou portoricaines de NYC garderont très longtemps encore l'usage de l'espagnol.
@OIL   Thu Jul 26, 2007 8:08 am GMT
what about speaking a language everybody can understand?
Guest   Thu Jul 26, 2007 8:17 am GMT

because Germans who emigrate always tend to give up their origins quickly and try to fully adapt themselfes to their new country
unlike for example the French, who are very nationalistic with their language
Guest   Thu Jul 26, 2007 8:27 am GMT
There is another reason: the prestige of a language.

The prestige of German language during the WWI and WWII was very bad. So, they losed the language very quickly. It was synonimous German and Nazi during a lot of time.

At the same time, the prestige of a world language (English, Spanish and French) allows to preserve better the language:

In several African, European and American countries (or States in USA) where the percentage of native speakers of English, Spanish and French is poor, they don´t lose the language because of their prestige.
Adolfo   Thu Jul 26, 2007 11:26 am GMT
"Quand des immigrants arrivent individuellement, les uns après les autres, ils tendent à copier l'adaptation de leurs cousins arrivés avant eux et déjà en cours d'intégration. Ça fait une très puissante machine à assimiler. "

In New Mexico the settlers were spanish and later migrants ,along the second half of the XIX century and first half of the XX century, were English speakers but the inhabitants had to speak a foreing language and forget Spanish.Not always the migrants adopt the language of the natives but the contrary, it depends on many other factors.
K. T.   Thu Jul 26, 2007 5:21 pm GMT
Hmm. It makes me wonder if OïL and greg are working together...

OïL's opinion is too long for me to translate (without pay, lol), but there is a point: "German" includes a lot of German speakers, not just


"The prestige of the German language during WWI and WWII was very bad." (Corrections of the article are mine.)

I think this is the MAIN reason
Guest   Thu Jul 26, 2007 7:08 pm GMT
because when te germans arrived in mass in US territory, it was already an english-speaking land. to become fully Americans they had no choice than learn the language and adopt English names instead (Muller -> Miller)

It is obviously a different story in Canada, which was a french colony BEFORE being taken by the English. When the french settlers arrived in Canada it was officially a french-sepaking colony. When the English took over Canada, they change the official language to English, so the new imigrants that populated the least populated eastern provinces, they arrived in an English-speaking society. In the same time, the decendants of the french settlers try to resist to these changes of rules and kept using their language at home - they had to wait the 7O to become fully recognised in Quebec, the only province where they are still the majority, and manage to make french the official language of it.
Guest   Thu Jul 26, 2007 7:10 pm GMT
" what about speaking a language everybody can understand? "

which language ?

French is understood by many people, I'm sorry if you can't speak it, but everybody isn't anglophone either.
Travis   Thu Jul 26, 2007 8:04 pm GMT
I've already discussed this in other threads, but as this thread pertains particularly to this, I might as well repeat myself here. Also, I should note that what I am saying here is from a Wisconsinite and particularly Milwaukeean perspective, and thus may not be completely applicable to all historically German-speaking areas in the US.

Here in southeastern Wisconsin, German was historically a major language alongside English in the mid-late 1800s due to large scale German settlement here. Note that when I say "German" here, that encompasses people from a wide area of Europe, ranging from Alsace and Schleswig-Holstein on one end to Estonia and Romania on the other, and in no way actually corresponds to the modern notion of Germans (known as Reichsdeutsche prior to the end of WW2). Germanness was defined by language (either High German, Low Saxon, or East Low German) and not actual ethnicity in this context.

However, by the 1880s younger individuals from historically German-speaking populations who were born here were already natively bilingual in German and English here. Furthermore, the dialect diversity in the German-speaking population here made it such that it was not uncommon for German-speakers to actually converse in English rather than German because they could all understand English better than they could understand each other's dialects. This itself limited German's chances of long-term survival here even though it was very widely spoken at the time here.

However, the big thing that probably pushed German over the edge here was US involvement in WW1, where many of the German-language institutions which had existed here were destroyed, along with many preexisting ties between German-speaking populations here and those elsewhere. The general suppression of the German language at that time here was never recovered from, even though the laws that had been made against it largely disappeared by the early 1920s.

WW2 was less of a factor than WW1, and only some open Nazi sympathizers amongst the German population here were suppressed, but it did at the same time resulted in many remaining ties with Germans in Europe being cut. At the same time, a good number of German immigrants moved to here in Wisconsin shortly after WW2, especially in the case of Germans who fled areas which came under Soviet control. However, though, such really did not have much affect on German's fortunes here, considering that it had already been largely replaced by English by then (even though there were native German-speakers, aside from them, alive here until the late 20th century).
Travis   Thu Jul 26, 2007 8:21 pm GMT
>>because when te germans arrived in mass in US territory, it was already an english-speaking land. to become fully Americans they had no choice than learn the language and adopt English names instead (Muller -> Miller)<<

That is not true. At least here, very many German names are preserved as is, and if they are not, such is primarily in the form of changing "-mann" to "-man" (even though some last names have not undergone such, such as my own) and replacing umlauted letters with unumlauted letters followed by "e". Furthermore, the pronunciation of many German names here actually has been influenced (often nonobviously) by actual German pronunciation. Particularly, the pronunciation of "oe" and "ue" in names is often nonobvious and is due to being anglicizations of German *pronunciations* and not German spelling. For instance, the normal pronunciation of "oe" here is actualy /e/ and not the expected spelling pronunciation /o/, reflecting the unrounding of German /2:/ and /9/; likewise the classical pronunciation of "ue" here is actually /I/ or /i/ (depending on the name) and not /ju/, reflecting the unrounding of German /y:/ and /Y/. However, one will still often hear "ue" pronounced as /ju/ here today, particularly by younger people.

One thing that does happen here is that people will sometimes anglicize the pronunciations of names, at times even effectively translating the names from German to English in speech, but leave their spellings as is; one particular example that I can think of is the last name "Neumann", which is normally pronounced "newman" here (but such is not a mere spelling pronunciation of the German name, as very many other German last names here with "eu" in them are pronounced with /OI/ rather than /u/ or /ju/).

At the same time, we do speak of people like "Millers who are not Millers" and like (such as the Scandinavian analogue of "Johnsons who are not Johnsons"). One way or another, though, German names actually have not been anglicized that much here at least compared to other parts of the US.
Travis   Thu Jul 26, 2007 8:28 pm GMT
One thing I do remember being told is that at one time here, it was often traditional to not pronounce German names as-is, but rather to translate them in general on the fly into English while speaking English while keeping their spellings (largely) intact. However, this died out towards the end of the 20th century, probably lack of people with sufficient knowledge of German to be able to actually say "Schmidt" as "Smith" and "Freitag" as "Friday", for instance.
greg   Thu Jul 26, 2007 8:57 pm GMT
@OIL : « what about speaking a language everybody can understand? ».

Et toi, tu captes que ce site est *P*L*U*R*I*L*I*N*G*U*E* ?

« Guest » : « (...) unlike for example the French, who are very nationalistic with their language ».

Te rends-tu compte de l'inanité de ta remarque ? Comment peut-on être "nationaliste" à propos d'une ***LANGUE*** quand cette langue est parlée par davantage de locuteurs vivant hors de l'Hexagone qu'à l'intérieur ?!?
Earle   Thu Jul 26, 2007 10:28 pm GMT
In the late Colonial period/early National period, there was a strong movement in the mid-Atlantic region to have German declared the official language (or, at least the official "second language"), since there were as many, or, perhaps, more German speakers than English.
Travis   Thu Jul 26, 2007 10:38 pm GMT
Actually, that is a myth. While there was a good amount of German settlement in what would become the US during the colonial period, it was still relatively limited (being primarily centered in Pennsylvania), and there was in no fashion "more German speakers than English". The suggestion that German be made an official language was just a passing suggestion which was not followed up on or really taken seriously and was primarily intended to attract German immigration to the US.

The real period of significant widespread German settlement in the US was actually much later than that, and started with the failure of the Revolutions of 1848 and the subsequent emigration of German liberals and like to the US. Aside from colonial-period German settlement in Pennsylvia, the primary German settlement occurred from that point until WW1 and was of the greatest magnitude in the Midwest.