“Official English” and the Politics of Statehood

Author: C. Botelho

The United States does not have an official language, although 31 states have adopted English as an official state language. In Puerto Rico, Spanish and English are both official languages, with Spanish being the dominant language and English being required for all federal matters. This has not stopped GOP presidential primary candidates Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum from advocating for some sort of “Official English” policy as a condition for Puerto Rican statehood.

Romney has retreated from his earlier statements criticizing U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor for not insisting that English be the official language of Puerto Rico, and for her lack of support in advocating for improved English proficiency amongst Puerto Ricans. Unlike Romney, Rick Santorum continued to insist that “Official English” was a prerequisite for any discussion regarding Puerto Rican statehood (Santorum has since suspended his campaign). “There are other states with more than one language, like Hawaii,” Santorum stated, “but to be a state of the United States, English must be the principal language.” Evidently Santorum’s United States is a monolingual English-speaking country, with the minor exception of Hawaii and an unspecified number of nameless “other states.”

While demanding that Puerto Ricans become more proficient in English, a language that is already official despite being less common than Spanish, neither Romney nor Santorum applied their reasoning to bilingualism within those portions of the United States not designated as “unincorporated territories.” Where is the acknowledgement that Americans would do well to develop proficiency in Spanish, the second most spoken language in the U.S. (12% of the population)? The U.S. is reported to have the fifth-largest speaking Spanish population in the world, outnumbered only by Mexico, Spain, Argentina, and Colombia. The notion that Spanish is somehow a threat to our national identity has been present in the American political landscape for decades—centuries, in fact—but the reasoning and facts behind this argument remain in dispute .It will be interesting to see if and how this discussion will carry over into the general election.



  1. Santorum stands by English condition for Puerto Rico statehood. CNN Politics, March 15, 2012.
  2. Azad, Sifat. Puerto Rico Primary: Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum Offend, While Attempting to Win Voters. Policymic: Next Generation News and Politics, March 2012.
  3. Where the Candidates Stand on Puerto Rican Statehood. Fox News Latino, March 16, 2012.