The Muhlenberg Legend

German Language CoachIt is a great idea to learn German if you are intending to spend time in Germany, and we offer German courses here in London in the comfort of your workplace or home.

But could it have been the case that you might have needed to speak German when travelling to America?

A myth persists that in the early days of the United States of America a proposal was put forward to make German the first official language of this great nation. The motion was put to a vote and it is said that English was chosen ahead of German by just one vote which was cast by the Speaker of the US House of Representatives, Frederick Muhlenberg, himself a German descendant. This has become known as the Muhlenberg Legend.

However, there is a nugget of truth behind the story. In 1794 a group of German immigrants from Virginia petitioned the House of Representatives requesting that some federal laws be translated into German. When the motion was put to the vote there was a tie at 41 for and 41 against, so Muhlenberg, who actually spoke very little German, cast the deciding vote to keep English only. He is alleged to have said, “The faster the Germans become Americans, the better it will be.”

Through the years the legend evolved from the translation of statutes, to German becoming the official language of Pennsylvania and then of the whole of the United States. This is a typical example of not letting the truth stand in the way of a good story and the myth has been perpetuated throughout the centuries.

In fact America does not have an official language and until the early twentieth century German was the second most widely spoken language in the USA before dropping to third behind English and Spanish.

Large numbers of Germans moved to America, particularly Pennsylvania and the surrounding areas, and there are still communities where various forms of German are spoken. At one time there were more than 800 German magazines and newspapers in the US the first of which, the Philadelphische Zeitung, was founded by Benjamin Franklin.

If you would like to learn German in London contact us here.

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