Linguistic Diversity Census

A survey carried out by the U.S. Census Bureau shows a significant increase in the number of people who speak a language other than English in the USA. Here is the full article which includes a list of the most spoken languages:

New Census Bureau Report Analyzes Nation’s Linguistic Diversity

Population Speaking a Language Other than English at Home Increases by 140 Percent in Past Three Decades

     The number of people 5 and older who spoke a language other than English at home has more than doubled in the last three decades and at a pace four times greater than the nation’s population growth, according to a new U.S. Census Bureau report analyzing data from the 2007 American Community Survey and over a time period from 1980 – 2007. In that time frame, the percentage of speakers of non-English languages grew by 140 percent while the nation’s overall population grew by 34 percent.

Spanish speakers accounted for the largest numeric increase — nationwide, there were 23.4 million more speakers in 2007 than in 1980 representing a 211 percent increase. The Vietnamese-speaking population accounted for the largest percentage increase of 511 percent (1.0 million speakers) over the same timeframe.

The new report, Language Use in the United States: 2007 [PDF], identifies the states with the highest concentrations of some of the most commonly spoken non-English languages. The languages, and some of the states with the highest percentage of speakers of these languages, include: Spanish (Texas, California and New Mexico), French (Louisiana and Maine), German (North Dakota and South Dakota), Slavic languages (Illinois, New York, New Jersey and Connecticut), Chinese (California, New York, Hawaii and Massachusetts) and Korean (Hawaii, California and New Jersey).

“The language data that the Census Bureau collects is vital to local agencies in determining potential language needs of school-aged children, for providing voting materials in non-English languages as mandated by the Voting Rights Act, and for researchers to analyze language trends in the U.S.,” said U.S. Census Bureau Director Robert M. Groves.

Data on the speakers of non-English languages, as well as their English-speaking ability, routinely are used to help shape legislative, legal and marketing decisions.

Of the 281 million people 5 and older in the United States in 2007, 55.4 million individuals — or 20 percent — reported speaking a language other than English at home. While the Census Bureau codes 381 detailed languages, data tabulations generally are not available for all of those detailed groups. Instead, the Census Bureau collapses them into smaller sets of “language groups.” The simplest collapse uses four major groups: Spanish, other Indo-European languages, Asian or Pacific Island languages, and all other languages. Of those people surveyed in this report, 62 percent spoke Spanish, 19 percent spoke other Indo-European languages, 15 percent spoke an Asian or Pacific Island language, and 4 percent spoke some other language.

Among people who spoke a language other than English at home, a majority reported speaking English “very well.” The range varied from around 50 percent of the Asian or Pacific Island language speakers to 70 percent of those who spoke some other language.

The report also found:

  • After English and Spanish (34.5 million speakers), Chinese (2.5 million speakers) was the language most commonly spoken at home. Five other languages have at least 1 million speakers: Tagalog (1.5 million speakers), French (1.4 million speakers), Vietnamese (1.2 million speakers), German (1.1 million speakers) and Korean (1.1 million speakers).
  • The largest group of English-only speakers (78.3 million) were 41 to 64, compared with the 42.3 million speakers 5 to 17, and 72.4 million speakers aged 18 to 40 and 32.6 million speakers 65 and over.
  • Among Spanish speakers, nearly as many were native-born as foreign-born — 17.0 million versus 17.5 million, respectively. This was not the case for the other three major language groups — all three were sizably more foreign-born. Also, of Spanish speakers, 53 percent reported speaking English “very well.”
  • Not all languages have grown in use over the years: Italian, Yiddish, German, Polish and Greek were spoken at home by fewer individuals in the United States in 2007 than in 1980.

Also being released today are state by state and national tables, using the 2006-2008 American Community Survey multiyear data, that list every language reported by at least one person in the sample period.

The tables detail the 303 languages other than English spoken at home. Those languages include:

Heritage Languages Mapping

Here are two maps that show the distribution of heritage languages in the United States:

As discussed in an earlier GeoNote on religion in the United States, major patterns on a map often conceal more subtle – and often more interesting – configurations. A similar problem occurs with language maps: mapping a majority language often masks the extent of various minority languages.

Consider, for example, the issue of Heritage languages in the U.S. The term “heritage languages” refers to both immigrant languages such as Spanish, Tagalog, or Russian, and Indigenous Native American languages. Among the nearly 400 heritage languages spoken in the U.S. today, Spanish is by far the most prevalent: of the 55.4 million people who spoke a language other than English at home in 2007, 34.5 million spoke Spanish. Moreover, Spanish is the most widespread non‑English language in the majority of U.S. counties, as can be seen from the map at the top of this note. Only three significant areas of non-English, non-Spanish language use are revealed by this map. First, Native American languages are spoken at the “four corner” area of Utah, Colorado, Arizona, and New Mexico, as well as in certain counties of Wyoming, Montana, and Oklahoma. Second, two relatively small French-speaking areas stand out: one in Louisiana and the other in the New England states of New Hampshire, Vermont, and Maine. Third, a modest German-speaking belt stretches from Montana through the Dakotas and into Minnesota and Wisconsin.

However, if Spanish is taken out of the picture, a different spatial pattern is revealed. For one, the Native American language zone becomes much more extensive. Another curious discovery is that French is spoken in a much larger area as well, extending from Louisiana to Mississippi and Arkansas, and from the three New England states mentioned above to much of upstate New York and Massachusetts. In fact, many counties between those two francophone centers have a French-speaking presence. On the other hand, there are also numerous counties, chiefly in Texas, but also in some other states, where only English and Spanish are spoken. Other areas where predominant immigrant languages are revealed by this map include the Tagalog-speaking area in Southern California, and the Scandinavian Belt in the Dakotas, Minnesota, and Wisconsin (here, mapped as “Other languages”). Finally, German, which according to the earlier map was widespread only in some northern states, emerges as a kind of “default” heritage language, without a clear geographical pattern. Thus, excluding Spanish from consideration helps reveal certain interesting patterns while concealing others.