The May 13, 2014 issue of Slate includes a fascinating article by Ben Blatt called, “Tagalog in California, Cherokee in Arkansas.” This article is a follow-up to a post Ben wrote in April about viral maps. He happened to pick the topic of languages other than English that are spoken in American homes. This topic is of great interest to those of us in the language arena and I’m glad that Ben chose it as his example. For his source data, Ben used the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey (ACS).  To indicate additional languages spoken at home, respondents to the ACS survey filled in a blank box with a self-selected language. It was not a check box or a radio button. Because of the variations, there are some flaws in the way the Census Bureau treats different languages. For example, some people wrote “Chinese,” as the additional language spoken at home. Others put “Mandarin” or “Cantonese.” Unfortunately, this lack of consistency skews the results a bit, but the information is still fascinating. Overall, the most commonly spoken language other than English is Spanish. This is not a surprise. It gets more interesting when you look at the languages other than English or Spanish.   The most commonly spoken language (other than English or Spanish) in California is Tagalog. In New York, it is Chinese. In Texas it is Vietnamese. Ben then goes on to drill down into the most commonly spoken Native American languages, the most commonly spoken Scandinavian languages, the most commonly spoken Indo-Aryan languages, and the most commonly spoken African languages. What language does your state speak? Is it different from what you would have guessed?

Val Swisher
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