As the title states, I realized today the USA doesn't have an officially recognized language, which implies (to me) that I can submit forms in any language if I so chose - the most obvious example being my tax forms.

Is this the case? Does this happen, and if so, what's stopping me from submitting them in e.g. Chinese? What about something like Cuneiform or Latin? Are the courts or IRS or whomever required to accept such forms?

Conversely, if I'm required to translate them into English, what legal basis is there for such requirements?

1 Answer 1


Nothing specific and nation-wide prevents you from doing this, but you might be stopped in a specific way in a specific location. You may even be allowed or required to do so, for example RCW 26.21A.630 says (in the context of child support issues) "A record filed with a tribunal of this state under this article must be in the original language and, if not in English, must be accompanied by an English translation". Courts generally have the power to impose rules on what they deal with, so if you want to file to be the executor of an estate where the will is written in ǂHoa (an obscure language), you have to submit both the original and an acceptable translation into English. Since you are asking about forms and not testimony, you can almost rely on the fact that with a bit of effort, a document in a foreign language can be translated into English (the language which courts presumptively can all handle). There are laws codifying practices for foreign language interpretation which are designed for courtroom translation but are applicable to document translation, which boils down to a certification process for the translator. Since there almost certainly is not a court-certified ǂHoa translator in Washington State, or elsewhere in the US, a will written in ǂHoa would have to be translated by a non-certified translator.

The IRS has a page outlining its language services, which requires them to facilitate tax-paying for those with limited English ability. If you speak English fluently but want to file your tax form in Guraginya for fun (which uses a different alphabet including numerals like ፺), they will almost certainly tell you to stop being a smart alec and you'll have to re-file. You could sue, and you would lose. Youcould win if you really didn't have any other means of filing your taxes (and you could avail yourself of translator requirements at your trial, to explain that you don't know any English at all and can't even write ordinary numbers).

Generally, there are no explicit laws that compel using English, thought some states may have specific language laws. The fact of not knowing English cannot deprive you of your rights, under US law. The supreme court has avoided deciding on the constitutionality of Arizona's requirement that English be the sole official language.

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