Legend has it that on this date in 1795, the U.S. Congress voted on a bill that would have established German as the official language of the United States. The legend continues by claiming that the bill failed by only a single vote, a vote surprisingly cast by a man of German heritage, the first Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives Frederick Augustus Muhlenberg.
As is usually the case, the truth behind the legend is much less astonishing. There was in fact a language bill considered by Congress on January 13, 1795, but instead of giving the German language any official status, it would have merely mandated the printing of federal laws in both German and English. In the course of debating the bill on January 13th there was a casing of ballots that failed by a single vote, but that was merely a motion to adjourn, and there is no evidence that even that vote was cast by Muhlenberg. The final vote on the translation of the federal laws was rejected by Congress one month later, and there is no record of the final vote numbers (1).
The whole truth is that the German language never came within a hair’s breath of becoming the official language of the United States. Furthermore, although there have been attempts to make English the official language of the United States, the truth is that the United States has never had an official language.
Today’s Challenge: What’s the Verdict?
What are some examples of language or writing rules that you have been taught in school? Are the rules valid, or are they merely myths? Like the myth of the German Language Bill, various myths have been perpetuated through the years regarding the use of the English language. Although there may be some kernels of truth in each of these rules, a true investigation will reveal that the rules themselves are fallacious. Investigate one of the English language rules below, or one you have encountered from your own experience, and research the validity of the rule. Write up your verdict using evidence and examples that reveal the rule’s validity or falsehood.
Never begin a sentence with a conjunction.
Never use the passive voice.
Never split an infinitive.
Use the article “a” before words that begin with consonants; use the article “an” before words that begin with vowels.
Never end a sentence with a preposition.
Only words in the dictionary are real words.
(Common Core Writing 2 – Expository)
Quotation of the Day: Myths are public dreams, dreams are private myths. –Joseph Campbell