We Speak No Americano

We are covering the chapter on languages in my geography class right now and I figured I would share some interesting things that I found while researching data for an assignment. Basically, we were asked to write about languages in the United States and what languages and dialects we both see and hear in our communities. Of course, this is related to globalization because, let’s face it, everything is related to globalization these days. Languages, like people, have moved a lot from their original hearths and the United States has become a hub of diversity where you can encounter several different languages just by walking a couple blocks. Well, in metropolitan areas like Los Angeles, at least.

In 2010, the US Census Bureau released a report written by Hyon B. Shin and Robert A. Kominski called “Language Use in the United States: 2007“. Just as it notes in the title, this report looks at data collected in 2007 pertaining to people who speak a language other than English at their home. During that year, over 55 million people aged five years and older, or 19.7% of the total US population, fit into that category. What did a majority of these people speak at home? Spanish and Spanish Creole took the top spot with 62.3%. That was well above the 4.5% that spoke the second most common non-English language, Chinese. French, Tagalog, Vietnamese, German, and Korean rounded out the top, all with over one million speakers each. Even though Spanish speakers make up the largest portion of the population who speak a language other than English at home, Russian, Persian, Chinese, Korean, Vietnamese, and Tagalog speakers saw larger percent change from 1980 to 2007, showing that these populations are growing at a much faster rate. Still, the total population of speakers for each of those languages is still far from the numbers of Spanish speakers.

42.6% of the population 5 years and older in California were reported to speak a language other than English at home, the largest percentage of all the states and nearly ten points above the state with the next highest percentage, New Mexico. Looking more closely at Los Angeles, the city is the number one metropolitan or micropolitan area for Spanish, Scandinavian, Armenian, and Persian speakers; the number two area for Russian, Chinese, Hungarian, and Hebrew speakers; the number three area for German, Gujarati, and Arabic speakers; and the number four area for Yiddish, Hindi, and Laotian speakers. The diversity of languages that can be found in Los Angeles reflects the diversity of people and cultures that now call the city their home.

One of the interesting things that we covered in class was that the United States does not have an official language, a language with a legal status given by the state that is officially used for business and politics within the country. The founding fathers believed that they did not need to include an official language within the Constitution because the nation was lacking diversity and English didn’t have the likelihood of being threatened. Even though there are some people today who are petitioning to have an English-only nation, the United States sees English more as a de facto official language, rather than de jure. I don’t necessarily believe that we need to acknowledge a true official language as English really isn’t that threatened and will likely not be as it continues to have global dominance. English one of the official languages of over 35 countries spread across all the continents, with the obvious exception Antarctica.

Languages are very interesting and I wish I had the patience to learn more. It’s unfortunate that I forgot a majority of the French I learned in high school, but at least I had the opportunity to take Filipino classes at UCLA. Gusto kong matutong maraming wika. Is that right? I hope so.


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