Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Your State's Third (or Second) Language

The American Community Survey shows that English is the most commonly spoken language in all 50 of the United States. This makes for a pretty boring map. Slate has a set of maps that dig deeper into the data to see what other languages are spoken. Spanish is the second most commonly spoken language in 43 states so that map is still not very interesting. However when you remove English and Spanish and look at the third (or second for 7 states) most common language things get more interesting.
This type of map should be taken with some caution as the numerical differences between languages may not be very large. Also one large urban area such as Detroit, with its large Arabic population can bias an entire state. If I had more time I could look this up but I would guess that not many Michiganders speak Arabic in the Upper Peninsula, or even north and west of Pontiac. Still, it's interesting to see how some of the original settlement patterns of the US have persisted (Navajo in the southwest, German in the midwest, and pockets of French, Italian and Portuguese in the east,) while other states show more recent settlement patterns such as Filipinos in California and Nevada, Vietnamese in Texas, Oklahoma and two other states, and Korean.

The article has several other maps showing the most common Scandinavian, South Asian and African languages. These are based on much smaller numbers so they're not as meaningful, yet there are still some regional patterns that emerge. More interesting is the map of the most common Native American language. The map mostly reflects original or sometimes forced settlement patterns, but also shows some long distance migration, particularly of the Navajos.
For more details and maps go to Slate.

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