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The third-most spoken language in the U.S. overall? Chinese.
May 14, 2014 12:38 PM   Subscribe

What language does your state speak?
posted by and they trembled before her fury (119 comments total) 20 users marked this as a favorite

 
This is neat, thanks, although, as in so many cases, I wish they'd include DC. That said, I'd guess Amharic might well be the most spoken non-English/Spanish language.
posted by Mrs. Pterodactyl at 12:40 PM on May 14


I'm actually surprised that Portuguese isn't ahead of Spanish in Massachusetts and Rhode Island, but it is interesting that those two states are the only ones where it is third.
posted by Curious Artificer at 12:42 PM on May 14 [2 favorites]


I wish they'd include DC.

I have actually written to Slate about this (you should too! maybe they won't listen to one crank, but if there are a bunch of cranks...). ACS has data on DC. There's no good reason for its exclusion.
posted by troika at 12:43 PM on May 14 [3 favorites]


The third-most spoken language in the U.S. overall? Chinese.

Weirdly, it's only the third-most spoken language in a single state, and only the third-most populous state at that.
posted by Etrigan at 12:44 PM on May 14


I was hoping for some insight into why the letter in English I got from my mail-order pharmacy yesterday came with copies in Tagalog and Navajo.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 12:46 PM on May 14


Hey Oregon – beware of little green men...
posted by Kabanos at 12:46 PM on May 14


This got posted on Reddit the other day and the comments were sadly mostly people saying "realistically, it should STATE should be LANGUAGE" where realistically is based on their personal experience rather than data. It was making me want to hit people.

The fact that this data is surprising is the best thing about it. I lived in North Carolina for almost two decades and never, so far as I know, met a person who spoke French at home, but apparently they're there, which is cool!
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 12:48 PM on May 14 [1 favorite]


Weirdly, it's only the third-most spoken language in a single state, and only the third-most populous state at that.
Oh. My source for that was the gizmodo article on the slate language maps. Census statistics seem to confirm though. Top 5:
1. English – 229 million
2. Spanish – 35 million
3. Chinese languages – 2.6 million
4. Tagalog – 1.5 million
5. French – 1.3 million
I don't know if it's notable, but, #2 and #3 are each around an order of magnitude smaller than the one above it.
posted by and they trembled before her fury at 12:48 PM on May 14 [1 favorite]


What's up with all the German-speakers in the Midwest? Amish people? I just don't think of there being a huge number of Germans around here. German-Americans, sure, but I think they mostly stopped speaking German during World War I.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 12:51 PM on May 14


I suppose I'd better start learning Yupik, though as far as I know it isn't spoken natively within 500 or more miles of where I am now.

But the native languages in this neck of the woods are in significant peril, despite concerted efforts from the remaining fluent speakers of Haida and Tlingit. If Yupik has enough speakers to even make the map, I'm pleased for what that says (little though it may be) about its hopes for survival.
posted by Nerd of the North at 12:53 PM on May 14 [2 favorites]


Are most of the German speakers Amish communities? I know tons of people from the Mid/Mountain West with German ancestry, but basically none who speak German, other than maybe from some high school and college classes. I don't think of those places as having gotten significant recent German immigration, either, although it seems like the numbers wouldn't have to be that high to get into third place in a lot of those states.
posted by Copronymus at 12:55 PM on May 14


Huh, Slate also just published an article on The Trouble With Viral Maps
posted by desjardins at 12:55 PM on May 14 [2 favorites]


Damn, the first sentence of the article. I'll pack it up now.
posted by desjardins at 12:56 PM on May 14 [1 favorite]


Molto bene! Tutto il mio tempo su Duolingo non è sprecato. Ma dove si parla italiano qui?
posted by graymouser at 12:57 PM on May 14 [3 favorites]


What's up with all the German-speakers in the Midwest? Amish people? I just don't think of there being a huge number of Germans around here. German-Americans, sure, but I think they mostly stopped speaking German during World War I.

There are a lot of ethnic Germans in the Midwest and the Rust Belt. There probably aren't a lot of people who speak it routinely, but there's probably still enough passed down to raise it to third in places that don't get a lot of immigration that isn't Spanish-speaking.
posted by Etrigan at 12:57 PM on May 14


Okay, here's what the ACS has for DC. I used table B16001, LANGUAGE SPOKEN AT HOME FOR THE POPULATION 5 YEARS AND OVER. I think it's the one he used, but he doesn't specify so I'm not sure.

The top ten in order from most speakers to least: English, Spanish, African Languages, French, Chinese, German, Italian, Portuguese, Tagalog, Hindi.
posted by troika at 1:01 PM on May 14 [2 favorites]


I like how Louisiana is all, "Fuck ya'll! French!"
posted by brundlefly at 1:07 PM on May 14 [5 favorites]


Thanks, troika, I was looking for that, but kept coming up with tables that had less specific data (like lumping all Asian languages together). I still wish they had more granularity on the African languages, but that's helpful.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 1:07 PM on May 14


From the Slate article:

> For instance, Mandarin, Cantonese, and other Chinese dialects are separated as different responses in the data and were treated as different languages when constructing these maps.

Treating them as different languages makes sense, since can be as different as French and Spanish - or more so, depending on which two Chinese languages are being compared. Treating them separately does mean that the map doesn't count reflect how many people with Chinese heritage speak a Chinese language at home, though, since they're broken up into smaller groups and counted separately.

I'm not actually surprised that my Midwestern home state is German, rather than another language. There simply isn't all that much clustered non-Spanish immigration and German's still holding on in some places. The major immigrant communities (German, Italian, Korean are big ones) that I can think of in my state are old enough that most people in them now speak English - there is not a continuing influx of new people to them.
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 1:07 PM on May 14 [5 favorites]


For instance, Mandarin, Cantonese, and other Chinese dialects are separated as different responses in the data and were treated as different languages when constructing these maps.

Except that New York is clearly labeled "Chinese".
posted by Etrigan at 1:09 PM on May 14 [5 favorites]


(That's a slam on Slate, not on you, Kutsuwamushi.)
posted by Etrigan at 1:09 PM on May 14


North Dakota, South Dakota, and Minnesota all have multiple Hutterite colonies and the Hutterites speak German as a first language, so that may explain some of the continued prevalence of German in the Midwest.
posted by Area Man at 1:10 PM on May 14


There are a lot of ethnic Germans in the Midwest and the Rust Belt.

One is reminded of Lawrence Welk.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 1:12 PM on May 14 [1 favorite]


Graymouser, shaddup you face. ;)
posted by jonmc at 1:13 PM on May 14


Slam the Census! That's how it's listed in the ACS data.
posted by troika at 1:13 PM on May 14


I'm actually surprised that Portuguese isn't ahead of Spanish in Massachusetts and Rhode Island, but it is interesting that those two states are the only ones where it is third.

We've had Spanish-speaking communities here a loooooong time - long predated the last wave of immigration of Spanish speakers. Portuguese has actually kept pace with an influx of Brazilian and Cape Verdean communities, and may overtake Spanish as the immigration trends shift to Asia.
posted by Slap*Happy at 1:14 PM on May 14


High fives to the Swedish speakers in Mississippi!

I always wondered what in seven hells inspired the Swedish side of my family to leave Chicago for Hattiesburg, Mississippi, of all places, circa 1910, for heaven's sake.

Maybe it's because there's a teensy little Swedish community there? Either that or the Swedish speakers on the map are all cousins of mine.
posted by Sara C. at 1:16 PM on May 14 [1 favorite]


I noticed that, Etrigan, and I can't explain the discrepancy. The full quote is:

> For instance, Mandarin, Cantonese, and other Chinese dialects are separated as different responses in the data and were treated as different languages when constructing these maps. If those languages had been grouped together, the marking of many states would change.

Why is it labeled "Chinese"? My guess is that it is a single Chinese language, not all Chinese languages, and that the mapmaker got careless, but I dunno.

There are other inconsistencies like this as well. For example, the map of African languages labels some states as "Bantu" - but Bantu is a language family, not a language. Then it lists "Swahili" separately for other states; Swahili is a Bantu language. Several of the other names on that map are also for families (ex. Kru, Cushite) and not individual languages as well. If they are grouped by family that's one thing, the map does not make it clear exactly what these labels correspond to.
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 1:17 PM on May 14 [1 favorite]


Graymouser, shaddup you face. ;)

I'm seriously curious, because my Italian-American grandparents (father's side) were fluent but didn't teach their kids, and I don't know many Italian-Americans who actually speak Italian. Most of our Italian-speaking relatives have since passed.
posted by graymouser at 1:20 PM on May 14


"The third-most spoken language in the U.S. overall? Chinese."

Well, "European" is first in the whole western hemisphere, right?

The Slate article rightly doesn't talk about "Chinese" but rather "dialects" and the other source mentioned above talks about "Chinese languages". (Though I do see that the author clouds the issue in one of his maps.)

And note that the topic is spoken languages, which completely avoids the ambiguity that a shared ideography causes. Cantonese is not merely a "dialect", though that's the English word that Beijing often chooses and which does accurately reflect official political attitudes. These are different languages in the same sense that English, Dutch, and German are different languages, or even more so.

This is a touchy subject for those involved, as it always is, thus Weinreich's quip about languages and armies. But it's particularly important where there's a shared ideography across extremely diverse spoken languages, as is the case with both Chinese characters and (in a significantly different sense, but with some of the same problems) with Arabic. This can lead both natives and the, um, naive to assume identity or homogeneity that doesn't exist and can play into the way that people will generalize and "other" foreigners.

For those interested, and primarily because of the active presence of the esteemed Victor Mair, Language Log has quite a few posts on this topic — here's a good recent one from Mair about the politics of Cantonese in Hong Kong vis a vis Beijing.

On Preview: also what Kutsuwamushi said. :)
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 1:22 PM on May 14 [3 favorites]


What's up with all the German-speakers in the Midwest? Amish people? I just don't think of there being a huge number of Germans around here.

For one thing, I'm almost certain that this isn't strictly limited to people who speak a given language as their first language. The Native American language listed for my home state of Louisiana is actually a "dead" language that is currently being reclaimed by the Native American community in question. Its last fluent speaker died in 1940, so it's very unlikely that there are any people who speak it as their first/native language, let alone as the only language that they speak.

For another thing, WHAAAAT??????? German is like the international cultural influence of the region. Tons of German surnames, German food everywhere (pretty sure the Midwest gave us the hamburger and frankfurter), all the breweries making lager the most ubiquitous style of beer in the US. I think not seeing how German the Midwest is must be a "fish doesn't know it's swimming in water" type of thing.
posted by Sara C. at 1:26 PM on May 14 [4 favorites]


Language is so interesting. I am a public librarian and one of my duties is collecting foreign language books for my library. I use census data to determine which languages to collect and in what percentage (my budget is not large).

I'm also the cataloger for my library and probably the single biggest thing that blew my mind when I started cataloging was just how many languages there are in the world. I would have WILDLY underestimated this before I started having to code languages into bibliographic records. Here is the language list for cataloging, in case anyone is interested ("UF" means "used for").
posted by rabbitrabbit at 1:29 PM on May 14 [4 favorites]


Graymouser, my situation is kind of similar. My mothers family emigrated from Italy when my Mom was seven (the other side of the family is Irish) and she's perfectly fluent in both English and Italian, my grandparents spoke English but heavily accented and with lots of malapropisms. I can understand a lot but beyond some phrases and expressions don't speak and while I had lots of Italian-American peers growing the same was true of them. Paisan.
posted by jonmc at 1:33 PM on May 14


And here is the map for Canadian provinces, as compiled by a reddit user. (Image only link.)

Is it possible for someone to go into the data and determine exactly which language each instance of "Chinese" on the map refers to?
posted by ocherdraco at 1:37 PM on May 14 [5 favorites]


Note: in the Canadian map, it is the languages most spoken after English and French, for obvious reasons.
posted by ocherdraco at 1:38 PM on May 14 [2 favorites]


I know a number of younger Italian-Americans who chose to study Italian in high school or college, and/or studied abroad in Italy.

That said, I do think it's surprising that there are more Italian speakers in New Jersey than Gujurati speakers.
posted by Sara C. at 1:39 PM on May 14


La pubblicazione di commenti in italiano su Metafilter ti fa apparire intelligente, anche se si barare usando traduzione meccanica.
posted by Wolfdog at 1:43 PM on May 14 [1 favorite]


brundlefly: "I like how Louisiana is all, "Fuck ya'll! French!""

If you saw where I'm from, you'd prolly see French due to the massive Belgian/Walloon population (Brussels, Luxemburg, etc...) It's clearly bastardized/removed from pure French, but ya know... I'd say that'd prolly be the second language... It certainly influenced the speakers and the accents.
posted by symbioid at 1:46 PM on May 14


Huh. Where are all those Spanish speakers in Pennsylvania living? I can't remember the last time (or ever) that I heard someone speaking it here.
posted by octothorpe at 1:47 PM on May 14 [1 favorite]


For another thing, WHAAAAT??????? German is like the international cultural influence of the region. Tons of German surnames, German food everywhere (pretty sure the Midwest gave us the hamburger and frankfurter), all the breweries making lager the most ubiquitous style of beer in the US. I think not seeing how German the Midwest is must be a "fish doesn't know it's swimming in water" type of thing.
Maybe, but I actually live here, I'm trained as an immigration historian, and my dad's first language is German. (I'm not sure that I'd count him as a German-speaker, but I'm certain they would. He can speak it, but not very well, and he hasn't spoken it regularly since he was a kid. People here tend to consider it very interesting and exotic that my dad grew up in a German-speaking household.) The standard narrative among historians is that German was pretty relentlessly suppressed and discarded during and immediately after World War I, and I haven't seen a ton of evidence that it isn't true. For instance, I've had very, very few students claim exemptions from my university's language requirements on the grounds that they speak German, and I've had more students claim exemptions based on speaking Korean and Vietnamese.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 1:51 PM on May 14 [4 favorites]


I was a little worried that Spanish would have superseded French as the official second language of Louisiana. Again, because this clearly isn't a map of native language or only language, but languages spoken in general, my guess is that the number of bilingual French speakers keeps the numbers artificially high.

At this point the status of French in Louisiana is a bit like that of Welsh in Wales. It's more of a heritage thing, ubiquitous in the public school system, there are French radio stations and street signs, etc. but there are very few people in Louisiana who are monolingual in French at this point.

In a hospital or a polling place, it's probably more likely that translators are needed for either Spanish or Vietnamese.
posted by Sara C. at 1:53 PM on May 14


Is it possible for someone to go into the data and determine exactly which language each instance of "Chinese" on the map refers to?

The ACS, apparently, does not distinguish between them. In this documentation [pdf, page 137] from the Census website, languages are in 4 main group and 39 subgroup classifications. Chinese is one of the 39, listed as Chinese (Examples: Cantonese, Formosan, Mandarin) and it does not appear to go any further than that.

The problem there is that Native American & African languages are mentioned in the doc in a very similar way, but there he was able to drill down further and get to individual languages (or language families). I've asked the author on twitter about which ACS table he used for that, hopefully we'll get some answers that way. As of now I don't see that data in the ACS. I have a lot of experience wrangling ACS data, but that doesn't mean I can't have missed something.
posted by troika at 1:54 PM on May 14


For instance, I've had very, very few students claim exemptions from my university's language requirements on the grounds that they speak German

On the other hand, I'd be curious to know how many high schools offer German as a foreign language, and how many universities have a German department/major.

As someone who grew up in the south and attended college in the northeast, German was not offered as a foreign language option in any school I attended until I transferred to a magnet school that just happened to have someone qualified to teach it on staff, and only one section was offered (and I think it was dropped in years where there was low interest). It was one of many foreign language options at my university, but it wasn't particularly popular and there wasn't a German program at all, just a few courses to satisfy foreign language requirements.

The only person I've ever met who studied German in school was from the rust belt/midwest.
posted by Sara C. at 1:59 PM on May 14


Florida's sometimes a kind of weird outlier for the South, but FWIW, our middle school, high school and junior college all offered Germany in Panama City, Florida, Sara C.
posted by saulgoodman at 2:03 PM on May 14


What's up with all the German-speakers in the Midwest? Amish people?

North Dakotan here. There's plenty of ethnic Germans but we had a HUGE influx of Germans from Russia in the early 1900s. They were originally Germans that migrated to Russia at the invitation of Catherine to settle around the Black Sea and the Volga River. But between the oppression of the Czar, conscription into the Russian army for the war with Japan (and eventually WWI), then the commies, most that could flee left for North Dakota, southern Canada and other parts of the Midwest. In Russia they were pretty stubborn about assimilating and continued to speak German, marry only Germans, etc. They didn't change all that much after coming to North Dakota.

I married a G/R, long-legged rancher's granddaughter. Her mother and father spoke German quite well but the third generation pretty much abandoned it. But there's still plenty of German speakers left alive.
posted by Ber at 2:04 PM on May 14


And they don't call it German here. It's pronounced Churman.
posted by Ber at 2:05 PM on May 14 [1 favorite]


I'm not saying it's never ever ever an option (growing up in Louisiana probably skewed what foreign languages are offered at the middle and high school level, in public schools at least), but I'd be interested to know if German is more common in schools in the midwest than it is elsewhere.

A large number of people studying German in school would probably affect these maps more than the vanishingly tiny number of elderly people who'd be likely to speak German as a first language from pre-WW1.
posted by Sara C. at 2:07 PM on May 14


Hopi in Delaware? How did that happen?
posted by uosuaq at 2:09 PM on May 14


I'm actually surprised that Portuguese isn't ahead of Spanish in Massachusetts and Rhode Island, but it is interesting that those two states are the only ones where it is third.

It always throws me for a loop when I'm flipping through radio stations and hit the portugese station. 'Oh, it's the spanish station, let's practice my spanish. What? I don't understand any of it!? Oh, wait, portugese.'

I had no idea there was any kind of portugese speaking population in the US until I moved to RI. But there is no way that it would beat Spanish, in RI at least.
posted by geegollygosh at 2:11 PM on May 14 [2 favorites]


My (SE Minnesota) high school only had two choices for foreign languages: Spanish and German.
posted by ckape at 2:12 PM on May 14


Huh. Where are all those Spanish speakers in Pennsylvania living? I can't remember the last time (or ever) that I heard someone speaking it here.

Hazleton is over 37% Hispanic, mostly Dominican immigrants moving from the NY area (related article).
posted by candyland at 2:12 PM on May 14


A large number of people studying German in school would probably affect these maps more than the vanishingly tiny number of elderly people who'd be likely to speak German as a first language from pre-WW1.

The specific question asked was about what language you speak at home, though, which should exclude people who are just studying a language at school.
posted by Copronymus at 2:16 PM on May 14 [4 favorites]


The Germans from Russia museum is here in Nebraska, Ber. My university offers classes in German, but I don't think I've encountered any people who speak German on a daily basis, even though lots of people here are from German or Czech extraction. Russian, occasionally, and yeah, there's a large Vietnamese population here so that's unsurprising.
posted by PussKillian at 2:30 PM on May 14


Growing up in Texas, I took German in the different schools I went to. My guess is that it was a holdover from the days when German was the language of science and engineering. This was back in the late Jurassic, however, so the tectonic plates have undoubtedly shifted since then.
posted by Celsius1414 at 2:30 PM on May 14


My father grew up speaking half-German half-English at home in the '50s, as did everybody else in his extremely German small town in Minnesota. Certainly anybody over 50 from that town is conversant in German. I suppose that's what's happening with North Dakota.

(I wonder if that will still be the case in the next census, after so many new people have moved into the state.)
posted by gerstle at 2:44 PM on May 14 [1 favorite]


Celsius -- there was a LOT of immigration to Texas from Germany, beginning in the 1850s. My ex-husband's was from New Braunfels (near San Antonio). He was born in 1952, and had German and English spoken equally at home, and some of his classmates started school speaking no English at all, although they were 4th or 5th generation born in America. Public use of German faded considerably after the start of WW II, but home use of German persisted for quite some time.
posted by pbrim at 2:56 PM on May 14


"My guess is that it was a holdover from the days when German was the language of science and engineering."

When I began as a physics major at large state university in 1984, this was why my advisor had me take German and that was standard at the time.

Isn't it odd that that continued until as late as it did and that now it seems so anachronistic? I mean, partly that's just that I'm so old and I have a hard time getting my head around the idea that thirty years ago was actually a long ways back. Still.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 2:56 PM on May 14 [2 favorites]


I wonder if that will still be the case in the next census, after so many new people have moved into the state

The last time I had the unfortunate task of going to the Wal-Hell in Williston ND (a choice no human should have to make) I heard at least four languages other than English. Not saying that's a bad thing, just the trips to Williston, let alone the world's worst WalMart.
posted by Ber at 3:00 PM on May 14


Texas actually had a fairly substantial German-speaking population, and they continued speaking German until relatively late by American standards. There was a post about it on the blue sometime relatively recently. I know a guy in his 70s who spent part of his childhood living with his German-speaking grandparents, and I think their families had been in Texas since the 1840s. I'm not terribly surprised that German would have been taught in Texas schools, at least in central Texas where most of the German-speakers lived.

Hereabouts, most rural schools only offer Spanish instruction. Urban schools typically have Spanish and French, and some of them offer German. My school district is phasing out German after this year, because of budget cuts. But language instruction here is pretty terrible across the board, and I can't imagine that too many students' high school German would enable them to speak the language at home.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 3:02 PM on May 14


I would've expected Vietnamese, not Navajo (properly Diné, I believe) for New Mexico, which just goes to show the bias I have from being urban and always living in school districts with large Vietnamese populations. My HS issued newsletters in English and Spanish, but I believe they also occasionally did Vietnamese.
posted by NoraReed at 3:11 PM on May 14


"Texas actually had a fairly substantial German-speaking population, and they continued speaking German until relatively late by American standards. There was a post about it on the blue sometime relatively recently."

Yeah, but in all the recent attention to this, and including in what I seem to recall was a NYT video, there's a fair amount of attestation to what ArbitraryAndCapricious wrote earlier: during the WWII period, there was a lot of (voluntary and somewhat involuntary) repression of German in that community and the numbers of those who spoke it at home and learned it as their first language dropped dramatically. There are few other than the elderly in those central Texas communities now who have German as a first language.

I'm pretty sure this happened all over the US during that period. German is by a large margin the largest ancestry of Americans outside of those from the British Isles and German as a first langauge was probably very common in the US until the after the war.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 3:12 PM on May 14


And don't forget that close, key vote in 1795 in Congress, where English was selected instead of German as the official US language.
posted by Rash at 3:22 PM on May 14 [3 favorites]


"I would've expected Vietnamese, not Navajo (properly Diné, I believe) for New Mexico, which just goes to show the bias I have from being urban and always living in school districts with large Vietnamese populations."

Yeah, as a native New Mexican, I find your expectations to be ... surprising. I would have guessed Navajo (after Spanish, of course), and then maybe one of the Pueblo languages — Wikipedia says that there are about eight thousand native speakers of Keres (which, by the way, was one of the languages used in the Super Bowl ad that had versions of the national anthem). I guess that there are more native Vietnamese speakers in New Mexico than that, but not many multiples more. Wikipedia says there are 170,000 native speakers of Navajo in the US, the larger portion probably in New Mexico.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 3:25 PM on May 14


On the other hand, I'd be curious to know how many high schools offer German as a foreign language, and how many universities have a German department/major.

The high schools in my county (Loudoun, in northern Virginia) offer French, Spanish, German, Latin, American Sign Language, and Mandarin. In fact, they start French, Spanish, German, and Latin in middle school.
posted by candyland at 3:35 PM on May 14


I'd be interested to know if German is more common in schools in the midwest than it is elsewhere.

Based on the smallish (about three dozen) sample of my cohort who went to Brandenburg for a study-abroad summer language program in the mid-90s, the two big clumps were West Coast and Wisconsin. Take that as you will.
posted by psoas at 3:36 PM on May 14


I would have liked to see more native languages on the map, but I guess I can just do a mental map of south america and feel a little better.
posted by elizardbits at 3:38 PM on May 14


(on the third most popular language map, i mean)
posted by elizardbits at 3:45 PM on May 14


Can anyone do this map according to zip codes? Doing it by state is meaningless, really.
posted by Mo Nickels at 4:02 PM on May 14 [1 favorite]


This was the recently linked story on German (of a sort) spoken in Texas.
posted by Bee'sWing at 4:03 PM on May 14 [1 favorite]


Grew up on Wisconsin-Illinois border. We had two non-English languages taught at my HS: Spanish and German.
posted by professor plum with a rope at 4:07 PM on May 14


When I was in high school in Georgia in the early 90s, we had the "major" European languages (French, Spanish, German) and Latin. (The Spanish was European, not North/South American, Spanish). This seemed pretty common in the state.

(I took German, I probably would have taken a non-European language instead had there been an option though)

In general the second language / other language thing is interesting, because there were large periods of American history where immigrants purposefully did not pass down their language in favor of assimilation. The culture has shifted now though where I think a lot more people think of being bi/multi lingual as an asset.
posted by wildcrdj at 4:19 PM on May 14


Peter Frase: Infotainment Journalism
posted by RogerB at 4:49 PM on May 14 [3 favorites]


My grandmother used to gossip with her neighbors in German so that the kids couldn't understand what was being said. This was in Iowa. My high school (Illinois) offered Spanish, French, and German.
posted by Eddie Mars at 5:10 PM on May 14 [1 favorite]


Most common language other than Spanish or English in Texas is Vietnamese. For those not acquainted with food in Texas, think about this wondrous thing that's been happening in Houston as a result of immigration trends -- Tex-Vietnamese-Cajun fusion food. Oh yeah! It makes all the sense in the world, and is wonderful, and is just spontaneously occurring here. Especially notable during crawfish season, which is right now. You've not lived, at least in my neck of the woods, until you've had a Vietnamese-influenced crawfish boil.
posted by Houstonian at 5:48 PM on May 14


I do think it's surprising that there are more Italian speakers in New Jersey than Gujurati speakers..

Fuggedaboutit.
posted by IndigoJones at 6:08 PM on May 14


Is the Hawaiian language not considered "Native American"? I'm guessing not, because I can't believe Navajo is more common than Hawaiian in Hawaii.
posted by Metro Gnome at 6:14 PM on May 14 [1 favorite]


Interesting to see Tagalog as the third most spoken language in California. I spend a fair chunk of time in northern Cali, and I was just thinking earlier today about how the single most common "employees must wash hands" sign I've seen (the one with the blue hands on the white background) around here has text in English, Spanish, Chinese, and Vietnamese.
posted by Itaxpica at 6:21 PM on May 14


Tagalog speakers generally know either English or Spanish or both. Also, go to a Phillipino Cotillion if you can, especially if it's a military family, it's amazing.
posted by Slap*Happy at 6:57 PM on May 14


(Filipino Debut.)
posted by Houstonian at 7:02 PM on May 14


How is there Navajo in MA and CT, when it's Navajo are southwest US territory?

Was there a mass migration in the 20th century or something? Because those areas would have their own native languages.
posted by hal_c_on at 7:03 PM on May 14


We exterminated most of the northeastern indigenous peoples not fortunately situated on casino land. (The immensely tough Narragansett laugh at me) - The Native Americans of the American Southwest are far more robust, and are expanding to seek fortune outside their home towns. New Englanders look at them as Mexicans. Ponder =that= horror a moment.
posted by Slap*Happy at 7:18 PM on May 14 [1 favorite]


The Portuguese in RI thing has been well covered already, but when I was on the Yearbook committee in High School, we needed a certain amount of Portuguese fluency in order to edit the senior quotes. It's also why I side-eye anyone who pronounces the -o in chouriço.
posted by Ruki at 7:19 PM on May 14 [1 favorite]


Maybe the Navajo language in the East has something to do with this.

In the 1950s and ’60s, Cleveland was one of several “Relocation Centers” across the country set up by the Bureau of Indian Affairs to receive young Native people lured from their homelands with promises of a better life. This, of course, was in preparation for the be-all-and-end-all solution — termination and full assimilation — to the “Indian Problem” that had vexed Congress since the founding of the United States.
posted by etaoin at 7:28 PM on May 14


I knew a family in California in which both parents were German speakers from Germany, but the kids were born in North America. The parents made a deliberate effort to run an English-speaking household. The kids learned that English is the language you that converse in, but German is the language that you argue in!
posted by Multicellular Exothermic at 7:32 PM on May 14


Mvto!
posted by RolandOfEld at 7:35 PM on May 14


I always wondered what in seven hells inspired the Swedish side of my family to leave Chicago for Hattiesburg, Mississippi, of all places, circa 1910, for heaven's sake.


A desire for better weather?

More seriously, that was just before the great migration northward, so there might have been some economic change or opportunity that they were responding to?
posted by Dip Flash at 7:46 PM on May 14


My best guess is that they must have known someone there who told them land was cheap. Because I don't think Mississippi was one of the states doing the whole LAND OF MILK AND HONEY AND GIGANTIC PRODUCE marketing campaign song and dance at that time, in the way that places like Nebraska and the Dakotas were. Either way, I guess better there than in what would soon be the dust bowl.
posted by Sara C. at 8:32 PM on May 14


For another thing, WHAAAAT??????? German is like the international cultural influence of the region. Tons of German surnames, German food everywhere (pretty sure the Midwest gave us the hamburger and frankfurter), all the breweries making lager the most ubiquitous style of beer in the US. I think not seeing how German the Midwest is must be a "fish doesn't know it's swimming in water" type of thing.

That's cultural, not the language. The chart says that there are a lot of German speakers in these states, not just someone who eats brats during Oktoberfest. What about these supposed German speakers?

(I'm not sure that I'd count him as a German-speaker, but I'm certain they would. He can speak it, but not very well, and he hasn't spoken it regularly since he was a kid. People here tend to consider it very interesting and exotic that my dad grew up in a German-speaking household.) The standard narrative among historians is that German was pretty relentlessly suppressed and discarded during and immediately after World War I


With my grandmother, it was Swedish. She grew up in a small farming town in Iowa, and she could speak a few Swedish words here and there, but wasn't fluent. She was born in 1918 or so, and she says that virtually the whole town was Swedish and it was the main language spoken, but that must've been before her time. I imagine her smattering of the language was simply learned in the home
posted by zardoz at 8:49 PM on May 14


That's cultural, not the language.

Sure, but that culture came from somewhere. It doesn't surprise me at all to find out that the third most common language spoken, after English and Spanish, is the language associated with the dominant ethnic culture of the region. I'd think it was weird if that weren't the case.
posted by Sara C. at 8:57 PM on May 14


It's surprising to me how many people seem to be learning for the first time that Germans are the single largest ethnic group in the united states. I guess since there's no drinking holiday they don't count.

But here's to schlitterbahn, fantastic brisket, shiner bock and world domination. I mean, schnitzel.
posted by hobo gitano de queretaro at 9:32 PM on May 14 [1 favorite]


Well of course Germans are by far the largest European ancestry group among white Americans. People assume it's the English or Irish but they don't even come close to the number of Germans. A huge wave of immigration in the 1880s brought millions of Germans to the U.S.

It doesn't surprise me at all to find out that the third most common language spoken, after English and Spanish, is the language associated with the dominant ethnic culture of the region. I'd think it was weird if that weren't the case.


But the German speakers were around a century ago, and as it's been pointed out, after WWI (and even well before that), there was concerted effort to downplay non-English languages, namely with the use of English only in schools.

Minority languages will die out quick unless there is deliberate effort to keep them alive. So the question is, who are all these German speakers? Are they talking about those who grew up speaking it, as a kind of family legacy? Or students studying German? Or German-speaking immigrants living in these areas? It's been three or four or more generations since a lot of these European languages were common in the Midwest.
posted by zardoz at 11:27 PM on May 14


Is the Hawaiian language not considered "Native American"?

In the second paragraph is this: "In addition, Hawaiian is listed as a Pacific Island language, so following the ACS classifications, it was not included in the Native American languages map."
posted by Houstonian at 12:15 AM on May 15


Are they talking about those who grew up speaking it, as a kind of family legacy?

The question was "what language(s) do you speak at home?"

This refers to anyone who answered that question with German, regardless of the specifics.

It's not a map of first languages or monolingualism. It's a map of what language you speak at home. And there's no lower numerical threshold, below which the state is marked "Only WASPS Live Here I Mean Come On". If there are 20 native speakers of German in the state, but no other languages are better represented, German wins.
posted by Sara C. at 12:42 AM on May 15 [2 favorites]


yeaaah, re the Scandinavian language map, Slate accurately listed the Norway, Sweden, and Denmark as the three Scandinavian countries but maybe the census should reclassify it as Nordic, to include Finland and Iceland. Because there are a helluva lot more Finnish speakers in Maine than Swedish.
posted by TWinbrook8 at 6:50 AM on May 15


I knew a family in California in which both parents were German speakers from Germany, but the kids were born in North America. The parents made a deliberate effort to run an English-speaking household. The kids learned that English is the language you that converse in, but German is the language that you argue in!

My high school French teacher immigrated from Lithuania with her family as a child and grew up speaking Lithuanian at home and English at school. She ended up marrying another Lithuanian-American immigrant who had grown up in the same situation. They made the decision to raise their own family the same way, so they all spoke Lituanian at home and English outside the home. The kids picked up English words here and there, but they didn't carry on full English conversations until they started school.

Their three kids are grown up now, and everyone in the family speaks at least three languages. (My teacher spoke her native Lithuanian, the Russian she had to learn in Lithania during the Soviet era and later pursued electively, the English she learned living in the U.S., the French she studied through postgraduate level, and the German she dabbled in.)

And then there were Danny Kaye and Sid Caesar, who credited their uncanny ability to make up language on the spot to being raised speaking Yiddish at home while hearing other languages spoken around them.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 6:56 AM on May 15


Can anyone do this map according to zip codes?

I can, if someone wants to get me a table that has top languages by zip code.
posted by troika at 6:59 AM on May 15


There are still some Midwestern families where German is spoken occasionally in the home as a heritage language. I knew such a family growing up. The mom would sometimes talk to the kids using short German phrases and they'd use German words for a few things around the house. The kids were then sent off to German immersion camp in the summer. (My wife has a similar approach with Norwegian. She talks to our kids sometimes in Norwegian, they occasionally watch Norwegian kids' shows on the computer, they used to attend a Norwegian immersion pre-school, and they will probably be sent off to Norwegian immersion summer camp when they are older.)

There are also the Amish, Older Order Mennonites, and Hutterites for whom German is a native language. This book states that Pennsylvania German is spoken by about 150,000 Amish and Older Order Mennonites in the Midwest. Wikipedia says there are 69 Hutterite colonies in Minnesota, North Dakota, and South Dakota. Each colony has about 60 to 250 people, so that's not a lot of additional German speakers but adds to the total.
posted by Area Man at 7:01 AM on May 15


I heard back from Ben, the author of the piece, about where he got the data! He sent me the table! I like this guy. The table is broken down by Chinese language into the following groups: Chinese, Hakka, Kan Hsiang, Cantonese, Mandarin, Fuchow, Formosan, Wu. The map uses a slightly older (but by no means outdated) dataset, which is why I couldn't find it. I was only looking at the most recent release.

If anyone would like a copy of the tables, I am but a memail away.
posted by troika at 7:52 AM on May 15


Also, here's the Census' 2011 Language Mapper tool, which lets you select a language and see where the speakers are clustered. Pretty neat.
posted by troika at 8:09 AM on May 15 [2 favorites]


German culture runs really, really deep in southern Wisconsin, but I can't remember hearing anyone speak German aside from my grandparents (now deceased), and that was only sometimes. So yeah, count me as surprised too.

In my particular neighborhood of Milwaukee, all government information is translated into Spanish and Hmong. Sometimes Russian and Korean.
posted by desjardins at 8:53 AM on May 15


I can never really enjoy/use maps like this, because I figure New York City skews it for the rest of the state.
posted by Lucinda at 11:03 AM on May 15


Because this is my particular area of nerdery--the Old Order Amish population in the US was at approximately 275,000 in May 2013, spread out among 30 states. The US Hutterite population adds another 11,250 German speakers in five states, and the Old Order Mennonite population might add another 25,000, though that data is older and via Wikipedia. None of these groups speak "German" that a person from Germany would speak; they all speak old German dialects (Pennsylvania German or Swiss German and Hutterisch, respectively), but are usually comprehensible to German speakers and vice-versa, or so I'm told.

One reason German may be popping up in some states (OH, IN, KY, TN, WI, IA, MO) is the Amish population explosion and subsequent migration patterns. The Amish population is currently doubling approximately every twenty years (given current birth rates and retention rates), and all those families have to go somewhere, especially if they want to farm. Suddenly you've got a lot more German speakers in low-populated areas, which might be affecting statistics.
posted by epj at 11:35 AM on May 15


The map on "most commonly spoken Indo-Aryan languages" is interesting. I wonder how they differentiated Urdu from Hindi given that--as spoken languages--they're the same language. I guess it's just based on self-reporting. Still, it would be interesting to know if Hindi+Urdu together actually surpass any of the other "Indo-Aryan" languages that place first in other states.
posted by yoink at 11:39 AM on May 15


I knew such a family growing up. The mom would sometimes talk to the kids using short German phrases and they'd use German words for a few things around the house. The kids were then sent off to German immersion camp in the summer. (My wife has a similar approach with Norwegian. She talks to our kids sometimes in Norwegian, they occasionally watch Norwegian kids' shows on the computer, they used to attend a Norwegian immersion pre-school, and they will probably be sent off to Norwegian immersion summer camp when they are older.)

This is kind of what I guessed for the reason German continues to be a presence in the Midwest. I know that this is basically what is keeping French in as most common second language in Louisiana.

I still think people are confusing monolingualism with "what language do you speak at home". I know sooooooooooo many people who are second or third generation and speak a non-English language in a home/family/heritage context despite having English as a native language. I happen to know more people who have this relationship with Cantonese or Bengali or Spanish than German per se, but looking at states where the vast, vast majority of non-Spanish speakers are monolingual in English, it doesn't surprise me that when you dig for a third language, German is what comes up.
posted by Sara C. at 11:51 AM on May 15


I wonder how they differentiated Urdu from Hindi

Self-reporting, most likely. Also, Hindi and Urdu speakers really, really hate it when you tell them they're speaking the same language, despite the fact that it's mutually intelligible. They really are considered separate languages for the purpose of this sort of thing, because the people answering the question consider them separate languages.
posted by Sara C. at 11:54 AM on May 15 [1 favorite]


I was talking with some Korean folks (you know, here in Korea) about this just this morning, and the big question was why Virginia and Georgia have such (apparently) large Korean communities. Nearest thing we could figure is that it's Christianity-based. I have no idea if that's the case, but it's an interesting question. I wouldn't have expected those two states to be the two with Korean as the #3 language.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 7:16 PM on May 15


the big question was why Virginia and Georgia have such (apparently) large Korean communities.

Might also have something to do with Korean women marrying GIs -- Georgia and Virginia have large military populations.
posted by Etrigan at 7:22 PM on May 15 [1 favorite]


I don't know about Georgia, but there's a big Korean population in Northern Virginia. I don't think it has to do with the military: it's basically just people moving to the DC suburbs because there are good jobs there. Here's an article that I googled up.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 7:34 PM on May 15


Might also have something to do with Korean women marrying GIs -- Georgia and Virginia have large military populations.

I don't think so. (And, for what it's worth, suggesting it to an actual Korean wouldn't make you may friends, I don't think.) There are something like 20,000+ US military people in Korea, not all of them men. Even if every single one of them married a Korean (male or female), and every single one of them came from Virginia or Georgia, it wouldn't make much of a bump.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 8:15 PM on May 15


San Francisco has certified Tagalog as a third language that must be used in communicating essential city services, city officials announced Wednesday.
Tagalog, the official language of the Philippines, joins Chinese and Spanish as languages that city departments communicating with the public must provide translation in.

posted by gingerbeer at 8:36 PM on May 15


Might also have something to do with Korean women marrying GIs -- Georgia and Virginia have large military populations.

I don't think so. (And, for what it's worth, suggesting it to an actual Korean wouldn't make you may friends, I don't think.) There are something like 20,000+ US military people in Korea, not all of them men. Even if every single one of them married a Korean (male or female), and every single one of them came from Virginia or Georgia, it wouldn't make much of a bump.


There are 20K+ there at the moment, but literally millions of U.S. servicemembers have cycled through Korea over the last sixty years, and for many of those years, according to actual academics (38-page PDF), they were the primary reason for Korean immigration to the U.S.:
An overwhelming majority of Korean immigrants during this interim period [1950-1964] were either Korean women married to U.S. servicemen in South Korea or Korean orphans adopted by American citizens.... Many Korean orphans adopted during this period were biracial children from the intermarriages between American servicemen stationed in Korea and Korean women.
I'm not attributing it entirely to that, but those war/post-war brides could have started kernels of immigration -- i.e., writing back to Korea and saying, "Hey, come to the U.S., it's great, here's my address." I've been stationed a couple of different places in Georgia, and there are pretty much always Korean communities right outside those bases. Is there a better reason that so many of them ended up in Georgia?
posted by Etrigan at 8:37 PM on May 15


literally millions of U.S. service members have cycled through Korea over the last sixty years

Ah, right. Good point. Yeah, could be part of the picture, though I'm not sure if it would skew any further towards those two states than others, though.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 8:51 PM on May 15


Yeah, could be part of the picture, though I'm not sure if it would skew any further towards those two states than others, though.

Georgia has several large Army and Air Force bases (Fort Benning, Fort Stewart, Robins AFB, several others that have been BRAC'd over the years), and Virginia has several as well, plus Navy bases. Military-related populations skew Southern, because that's where more of the bases are.
posted by Etrigan at 9:08 PM on May 15


This I did not know.

Given the general lingering K-cultural embarrassment factor over Korean women (mostly) marrying (male, mostly) US military personal, which is complicated and historical and kind of dumb, like so many other things here, that wouldn't be a popular partial answer to why, but it does sound more and more to me like a reasonable contributing factor over time, with anchor communities over the decades which may have started that way (through spouses coming there) growing gradually. Huh.

Weird, wonderful world we've built ourselves.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 9:17 PM on May 15


Here are two good articles about the Korean community in Northern Virginia: Mappers' Delight and Koreans make their mark in Fairfax.
posted by candyland at 5:15 AM on May 16 [1 favorite]


Once there's an immigrant community established, it tends to grow: friends and family from back home join their already-emigrated friends and family, of course; imported goods from the country of origin are more easily available; there's an expectation of less everyday prejudice; if a religion is commonly practiced in the country of origin that's a minority in the destination country, that's where the houses of worship will be; it's handy to be among those who speak your native lanuage until you get the hang of a new one; etc.

So, in many cases you really only have to look for the reason why the first group of immigrants settled in a certain area, and then you can kind of assume that the rest are probably there because of them.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 7:30 AM on May 16 [2 favorites]


here are the biggest immigrant groups in every US state
posted by and they trembled before her fury at 12:42 PM on May 22 [1 favorite]


That map is of people is new immigrants (granted immigrant status in 2012), though, not immigrants overall.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 12:48 PM on May 22


And also [hi, I work for USCIS] people granted lawful permanent residence (LPR status) ≠ new arrivals ≠ "legal immigrants." (That last term is so vague as to be meaningless, so of course it's in the map title. Thanks, Slate!) So that map lumps together people who have been here for years and just adjusted to permanent residence* with people coming in as refugees, family members of current residents, and some* people on employment visas. Still, interesting.

*Any further explanation requires wading into a legal quagmire and no thank you.
posted by psoas at 6:06 AM on May 23


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