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Germany - USA

Until it was forcibly suppressed during WWI, German was the second most widely spoken language in the USA, with many local governments, schools, and newspapers operating in German.

German was a widely spoken language in some of the colonies, especially Pennsylvania, where a number of German-speaking religious minorities settled to escape persecution in Europe. Dutch, Swedish, and Scottish Gaelic all became less common than German after the American Revolution. Another wave of settlement occurred when Germans fleeing the failure of 19th Century German revolutions emigrated to the United States. Large numbers of Germans settled throughout the U.S., especially in the cities. Neighborhoods in many cities were German-speaking. German farmers took up farming around the country, including the Texas Hill Country, at this time. German was widely spoken until the United States entered World War I. Numerous local German language newspapers and periodicals existed.

German language distribution in the United States.
In the early twentieth century, German was the most widely studied foreign language in the United States, and prior to World War I, more than 6% of American school-children received their primary education exclusively in German, though some of these Germans came from areas outside of Germany proper. Currently, more than 49 million Americans claim German ancestry, the largest self-described ethnic group in the U.S., but less than 4% of them speak a language other than English at home, according to the 2005 American Community Survey. The Amish speak a dialect of German known as Pennsylvania German. One reason for this decline of German language was the perception during both World Wars that speaking the language of the enemy was unpatriotic; foreign language instruction was banned in places during the First World War. (…)


When the U.S. joined in World War One, an anti-German attitude formed quickly in American society. German-Americans, especially immigrants, came to be blamed for the aggression of the German Empire. Speaking German was seen as unpatriotic. Frankfurters were renamed hot dogs. Many families anglicized their last names (e.g. from Schmidt to Smith, Schneider to Taylor, Müller to Miller etc.), and German disappeared nearly everywhere from the public arena. Many states forbade the use of German in the public sphere as well as the teaching of German.

The extensive campaign extended against all things German, such as the performance of German music at symphony concerts and the meetings of German-American civic associations. Language was a principal focus of legislation at the state and local level. It took many forms, from requiring associations to have charters written in English to a ban on the use of German within the town limits. Some states banned foreign language instruction, while a few banned only German. Some extended their bans into private instruction and even to religious education. A bill to create a Department of Education at the federal level was introduced in October 1918, designed to restrict federal funds to states that enforced English-only education. An internal battle over conducting services and religious instruction in German divided the Lutheran churches.

On April 9, 1919, Nebraska enacted a statute called “An act relating to the teaching of foreign languages in the state of Nebraska,” commonly known as the Siman Act. It imposed restrictions on both the use of a foreign language as a medium of instruction and on foreign languages as a subject of study. With respect to the use of a foreign language while teaching, it provided that “No person, individually or as a teacher, shall, in any private, denominational, parochial or public school, teach any subject to any person in any language other than the English language.” With respect to foreign-language education, it prohibited instruction of children who had yet to successfully complete the eighth grade. After teaching German, even in private schools, was forbidden in Ohio, Iowa and Nebraska there was a 1923 Supreme Court case (Meyer v. Nebraska) which ruled those laws unconstitutional. But German never recovered as the second language of public life in the U.S.


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