More than a third of all Pennsylvanians speak a native language other than English – and many of them have not even tried to learn English since immigrating, or at least prefer to carry out their daily lives in another language, living together in neighborhoods where their native language dominates. Some people worry that the status of English is critically endangered. Twenty-five years ago a major political figure warned that these “aliens … will never adopt our language or customs,” and so far, his prediction seems to be true. But wait – the date is 1776, not 2011, and the language competing with English is not Spanish, its German, and the major political figure who warned about the “aliens” who “swarm into our Settlements, and by herding together establish their Language and Manners to the Exclusion of ours,” is Benjamin Franklin. Linguistic sweetness didn’t always prevail among the founding fathers.
Ironically the first newspaper announcement of the adoption of the Declaration of Independence was published in German. It was printed during the late afternoon on Thursday, July 4, by John Dunlap, a local Philadelphia printer. By the next morning, Friday, July 5, the German Pennsylvanischer Staatsbote, published by Heinrich Miller, became the nation’s first newspaper to announce that the Declaration had been adopted, while copies were on their way to all thirteen states by horseback. Tuesday, July 9, the same paper devoted its front page to a German translation of the declaration. Saturday, July 6, the first newspaper print edition of the full text of the Declaration appeared in the Philadelphia Evening Post, and was published in English.
The original announcement from the Pennsylvanischer Staatsbote along with the full translated Declaration of Independence in German is below:
Philadelphia, den 5 July.
Gestern hat der Achtbare Cong-
ress dieses Vesten Landes die
Vereinigten Colonien Freye
und Unabhaengige Staaten erklaeret.
Die Declaration in Englisch ist jetzt in der
Presse: sie ist datiert, den 4ten July, 1776, und
wird heut oder morgen im druck erscheinen.
Click on the image to see the high-res version that is readable