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DID GERMAN NEARLY BECOME U.S. TONGUE? NEIN

SHARE DID GERMAN NEARLY BECOME U.S. TONGUE? NEIN

Sir: About that question whether German missed becoming the official language of the United States by just one vote . . .

- Many, many readers.

Answer: Oh, I took an awful beating on that one - for a while.

I said the story was baloney but couldn't cite a source, and folks from all over wrote to tell me I was wrong. Most quoted a published list of issues that supposedly had been settled by just one vote, and there was the story about the German language in plain view but with no evidence or documentation.

Someone had simply written that German would have been named the official language of the United States but for one vote.

Then a reader from Pennsylvania brought out the heavy artillery, suggesting that I had affronted every person of German ancestry in the nation, especially those in Pennsylvania.

She said the vote was taken at the Continental Congress in 1776 and told me it was all documented, including the one-vote margin, but she didn't document it herself. Instead, she simply cited a popular book where the bare statement was made in a believe-it-or-not tone, and that was it.

Meanwhile, I had consulted a distinguished historian who told me that, of course, the story wasn't true - but he added that it's hard to prove a negative. Few books are written telling what didn't happen.

At that point, a letter arrived from Jan Harold Brunvand of the University of Utah, famed for debunking what he calls "urban legends." He said he had filed the often-repeated German-language story under the heading of "Government Legends" and referred me to Ginny Gamache of Rosemead, Calif., who spent more than a year tracking down the German story.

I've been in touch with her and received impressive evidence that the whole story is a figment of someone's imagination.

Among other things, she sent me a copy of a letter from the Historical Society of Pennsylvania, which reported it could find nothing "which even hints at the possibility that a vote was ever taken to determine if German should replace English as the national language."

She sent other evidence - her research was thorough - but that one quotation should settle the question. If it doesn't, I challenge any critics to send documented, detailed evidence to the contrary, which they won't be able to do. Meanwhile, the story is still baloney.

Word Correction of the Week, by Ben S.:

"In an article about an early aviator, my newspaper said he offered a plane ride to some boys, and they `clamored aboard.' I assume he meant `clambered.' Surely he didn't intend to emphasize how noisy they were!"