In the 1750s British settlers in Pennsylvania began to fear and resent the fact that a third of their fellow Pennsylvanians were German speakers. Frederick Muhlenberg, the first Speaker of the United States House of Representatives, abstained from voting in the 1794 House vote proposing to translate some of the laws into German. The vote was defeated, 42-41. Muhlenberg, who abstained from the vote, commented later, “the faster the Germans become Americans, the better it will be.” Despite not having voted against the bill, the Muhlenberg Legend developed in which he was responsible for prohibiting German as an official language of the United States.
Nevertheless, German is the 3rd most offered language at U.S. colleges, after French and Spanish. Any wonder why we have so many words in common use that stem from German:
wunderkind, concertmeister, kitsch
frankfurter, hamburger, delicatessen, sauerkraut, spritzer, coffee-klatch, kindergarten, Oktoberfest, pretzel
schnauzer, doberman pinscher, dachshund, rottweiler
Why all the fuss about German? According to this chart from the U.S. Census Bureau, 42.8% of the population identifies themselves as being of German or part-German ancestry. Who knew?
This map (discovered by my husband, an economist) also shows that the census reported in 2000 that the plurality of people in a preponderance of U.S. counties identified themselves as being of German ancestry. Wherever you see light blue, that county claims Germans as the highest percentage of their population’s ancestry.
United States or American
West Indian (excluding Hispanic origin groups)
British West Indian
Dutch West Indian
Trinidadian and Tobagonian
© 2012 Copyright Billie Elias