The Muhlenberg Legend

The Muhlenberg Legend German Language Coach

It is a great idea to learn German if you intend 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 that you might have needed to speak German when travelling to America?

The German language in America

A myth persists that a proposal was put forward to make German the first official language of this great nation in the early days of the United States of America. The motion was put to the 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. That has become known as the Muhlenberg Legend.

Germans in America

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 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 translating statutes to German, becoming the official language of Pennsylvania and the entire 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.

German today

America still does not have an official language at the federal level, 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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