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Germans in America > German Language in the U.S.
Germans in America | Genealogy | German-American Relations

What kind of information materials are available?
CD: Texts available on CD version.Texts available in multiple languages.
· Die Deutsche Sprache in Amerika CD
German or English
· German Collections at the Library of Congress
· German English Words
· The German Newspaper "Amerika-Woche"
· Goethe Institute USA
· The Legendary English-only Vote of 1795
· Mark Twain: The Awful German Language
· Official German?
· Spiegel > Deutsch als Amtssprache?
· Texas German Dialect Project

Original Documents
· Amerika Woche. Die Deutsche Zeitung für Amerika
· New Yorker Staats-Zeitung

· Language Use and English-Speaking Ability: 2000] CD
Mother Tongue of the Foreign-Born Population: 1910 to 1940, 1960, and 1970
· U.S. Census Bureau: Language Use

Exhibits - Digital Images
German-Language Literature in the United States, 1830-1930

Teacher Resources
American Association of Teachers of German
The German Language in America
· German-Americans and Their Contributions to the American Mainstream Culture: German Names and Words

Link Lists
· Deutschsprachige Zeitungen in den USA
· German Programs at U.S. Colleges & Universities
· German Newspapers in the U.S.
· German Media in the U.S. 

German Newspapers in the United States

The Germantown settlers were followed by tens of thousands of other German immigrants during the 18th century. In 1790 roughly 277,000 Americans were of German ancestry. About 141,000 of these lived in Pennsylvania, where they constituted almost one third of the total population.

There is a popular legend that German almost became the official language of the United States. This notion has been popularized by German authors of travel literature since the 1840s. According to the so-called "Muhlenberg legend," a vote was taken in the Pennsylvania state parliament sometime in the 1790s on whether German should be the official language. Apparently the Speaker of the House, a German-American by the name of Frederick A. Muhlenberg, cast the decisive vote for English and against German. In reality, this presumed proposition was never brought to the floor and a vote was never taken.

The historical origin of this legend might have been a failed attempt in Congress in 1794, based on a petition of German residents of Augusta Co., Virginia, to have "a certain proportion" of the laws of the United States printed in German as well as English. A year later, the petition was denied by Congress by a vote of 42 to 41.

German Language Press in the U.S.
German language newspapers have a long tradition in the United States. A German newspaper, the "Pennsylvanischer Staatsbote" was the first to report and publish the Declaration of Independence. Signed in Philadelphia on July 4, 1776, the "Staatsbote" printed a German version on July 5. The English text had been printed for the members of the Continental Congress the evening of the 4th, but it was first made available to the general public in the "Pennsylvania Evening Post" on July 6.

During World War I, many German-Americans discontinued the use of German to demonstrate their patriotism. Many German newspapers ceased publication. There are to this day, however, still a small number of German language newspapers. The German "Washington Journal" is, for example, the oldest newspaper in the nation's capital.

The German Language Today
On the whole, German Americans are highly assimilated, and the use of German in the United States has declined dramatically. Certain religious groups practice language maintenance and continue to use German in everyday communication, using English as a second language. For the Old Order Amish, the Old Order Mennonites, and the Hutterites, language loyalty is part of their religious beliefs; it is also a shield against the influences of the outside world.

What remains of the German language in America? Probably not much more then a few loan words and names. The majority of the German words adopted into American English refer to eating and drinking (for example, sauerkraut and schnapps), but there are also some that testify to the German contributions to American life and culture (such as songfest and kindergarten).
Most German immigrants settled in established communities and were rarely in a position to choose distinctive German town names. The small number of German place names was further diminished by official name changes during World War I and through incorporation. Much more ubiquitous are German family names. Although their number has been constantly eroded by name changes and assimilation to English spelling, family names provide the first and sometimes only reason for many Americans to learn about and become interested in their ethnic origin.

German Language Study
In Germany, close to 6 million high school students study English. In American schools, 283,301 students studied German in 2000; it is the third most popular language choice after Spanish and French. According to a recent MLA report, German remained the third most taught language at U.S. colleges and universities as well, with a 3.5% increase from 2002. In 1997, German government sources provided some $3 million to German language projects in the United States. The funds went to teachers' continuing education programs and exchanges, seminars, the development of instructional aids, diploma certification, and academic competitions.

Resident language consultants from Germany, specialized in teaching "German as a Foreign Language," are attached to the education departments of six U.S. states -- California, Georgia, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Washington, and Wisconsin.. Supported by the German government, these experts assist state and regional groups with language program development and standards. The Goethe Institute e.V., a non-governmental organization devoted to teaching German language and culture, maintains 7 cultural centers in the United States. In Germany, some 2,000 Americans attend intensive German language courses through the Goethe Institute.

See also:
About the USA: German-American Relations, History and Immigration, 1683-1900
About the USA: The Media in the United States

Texts are abridged from U.S. State Department IIP publications and other U.S. government materials.
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Updated: December 2008