Despite what most people may believe, English is not the official language of the United States. Today there is no law or legislation that establishes an official language within the democratic country. For this reason, each state can decide on its own, as is the case, for example, of Hawaii, the last of the states to be incorporated into the territory, and which has made English and Hawaiian as official languages. Here are some key points as to why this is happening in the United States.
The Main Reason
To understand the reason why the United States does not have an official language, we must refer to the origins of the country. The founding fathers, when signing the declaration of independence, firmly believed in the individual rights and freedoms of each one of the individuals and considered that the State should never impose a language on its citizens, instead each one would be free to choose their own. Over time, it is true that English became the official language since it was the most widely spoken in the thirteen colonies from which the United States emerged.
The discussion about whether or not English should be the official language was strongly revived during the last presidency of Donald Trump. Before winning the elections, Trump used a nationalist discourse throughout his campaign, and after reaching the presidency, some of the social and political measures taken by the new president caused controversy. For example, when the White House website eliminated its version in Spanish, this put the debate back on the table and drawing accusations of discrimination and anti-immigration from Trump’s opponents.
The debate is always latent in society and reappears every certain interval of time. Movements such as English-only, for example, do not see sufficient reason not to declare English as the official language, since it is by far the most widespread spoken language throughout the territory. Those who oppose it argue that this decision would not respect the rights of the thousands of people who do not speak that language and who have been a structural part of the development and formation of the country. No legislative initiative to declare English the official language has gotten enough support to date.
The United States has been from its beginnings and to date a multilingual territory. From the native inhabitants to the colonies that were formed later, today the country has a large number of languages spoken in addition to English, such as Spanish, French, German or even Swedish. The reality is that going from the existence of numerous organizations such as US English founded in the 1990s or the English Only movement that was born in the 1980s, which seek to legitimize English as an official language, all attempts to date have failed.
When it comes to numbers, English is clearly the winner, with 215 million speakers within the territory. Then it is followed by the Spanish with 45 million and the third place is taken by the Chinese with 2 million people who use it. In turn, the dependent territories of the United States such as Puerto Rico, American Samoa, the Northern Mariana Islands and Guam are also not required to have English as their official language. Currently, and given the freedom of expression that the country professes, each state has decided for itself its official language, reaching a total of 32 states that have chosen the English language.