America’s Surprising Linguistic Diversity

Most of you probably know that Spanish is the second-most common language in the United States after English. But did you know that Chinese is in third place, followed by Tagalog, a Philippine language? It gets even more interesting when you crunch the numbers by state, as Ben Bratt of Slate did using data from the 2009 American Community Survey endorsed by the U.S. Census Bureau.

The following numbers are based on how many people over the age of five speak speak a particular language at home. Thus, the results don’t include people who learned a second language, say at school, but otherwise don’t utilize it as their primary one in the U.S.


Again, Spanish’s dominance isn’t too surprising — it’s spoken by around 10 percent of the population, roughly 35 million people (and that’s of almost five years ago).

French is dominant in areas that were former French settlements (Louisiana and parts of Maine) or that were (and still are) in close proximity to French communities (Maine, Vermont, and New Hampshire).

Yupik, an Inuit language, is the second-most spoken language in Alaska, which also isn’t surprising given that 15 percent of the state’s population is indigenous — the highest proportion of any U.S. state.

Tagalog’s popularity in Hawaii reflects the large Filipino population, which is the single largest ethnic group in the state. In fact, only around a quarter of Hawaiians are non-Hispanic whites, with over a third being Asian (although native Hawaiians comprise around six percent of the state’s population, only around 0.1 percent of Hawaii’s residents speak the language).

Now here’s how the U.S. looks once you reveal the third-most common languages per state.



Pretty fascinating stuff, yes? Who would think that Vietnamese is the third-most common language in Nebraska, Oklahoma, and Texas? Or that Portuguese is prominent in Massachusetts and Rhode Island? Given that Germans are the largest ethnic group in the U.S., its linguistic prevalence isn’t too surprising — in fact, it would arguably be much more common were it not for the World Wars discouraging its usage. 

My own home state, Florida, is a major gateway for people from Latin America and the Caribbean — hence why French Creole, namely the Haitian variety, follows Spanish as the most common non-English language. The fact that a native language is most prevalent in Arizona and New Mexico (as well as in South Dakota and Alaska) reflects the pattern of settlement of the U.S. — most Native Americans in the live in the West because it was settled much later on, leading to relatively less cultural and demographic destruction.

In any case, the commonality of a particular language in a state provides a lot of interesting insight into the new and/or historic developments in the area. If you’re curious, here are the most popular languages in the U.S. overall according to the survey (courtesy of Wikipedia).

  1. English only – 228,699,523
  2. Spanish – 35,468,501
  3. Chinese (mostly Yue dialects like Cantonese, with a growing number of Mandarin speakers) – 2,600,150
  4. Tagalog – 1,513,734
  5. French – 1,305,503
  6. Vietnamese – 1,251,468
  7. German – 1,109,216
  8. Korean – 1,039,021
  9. Russian – 881,723
  10. Arabic – 845,396
  11. Italian – 753,992
  12. Portuguese – 731,282
  13. Other Indian Languages  – 668,596
  14. French Creole – 659,053
  15. Polish – 593,598
  16. Hindi – 560,983
  17. Armenian – 498,700
  18. Japanese – 445,471
  19. Persian – 396,769
  20. Urdu – 355,964
  21. Greek – 325,747
  22. Hebrew – 221,593
  23. Hmong – 260,073
  24. Mon–KhmerCambodian – 202,033
  25. Hmong – 193,179
  26. Navajo – 169,009
  27. Thai – 152,679
  28. Yiddish – 148,155
  29. Laotian – 146,297

Hat tip to my friend Alexander for sharing this with me. 

Source: Gizmodo


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