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US Demographics: Common Languages by State

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Common Languages US

Ben Blatt of Slate created a fascinating map of the most common language spoken in each US state after English and Spanish:
To create the map, Blatt used data from the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey (ACS), which asked participants what language they speak in their homes (among other questions).

Insights and Trends

The map reveals interesting cultural and immigration trends. For example, Tagalog is the most common alternate language in California, Nevada and Hawaii because of the influx of Filipino immigrants in those states.

And the prevalence of Native American languages in certain regions – Navajo in the Southwest, Yupik in Alaska, Dakota in South Dakota – points to the influence of Native cultures there. Blatt actually created another map that shows which Native American languages are spoken throughout the country:

He also drew up maps showing the most popular Scandinavian, Indo-Aryan and African languages in the US; see them here.

Careful with That Data

Blatt points out some of the pitfalls of viral maps in his post Bad Latitude. He says,

“The underlying data is usually noisier than it appears, and a small change in methodology can result in drastically different maps. If you understand the sensitivity of the data and the process used to create the map, this isn’t much of an issue. But when someone shares an amusing U.S. map on Facebook, how long do you usually spend reading the fine print about methodology? You might be surprised at what you’re missing.”

For example, in the case of the map showing the most common alternate languages, if you didn’t know the map excluded Spanish, you would reach the inaccurate conclusion that Spanish is less popular than many other languages, including Arabic and Polish. In fact, Blatt made a map of most common languages after English alone – and this is what he got:

Including Spanish in the data yields a dull map.

Chinese is another issue. Because the ACS separates Mandarin, Cantonese and other Chinese dialects instead of grouping them together under one language, there was only one state that showed up with Chinese as the alternate language (New York). If the various dialects were not distinct from one another, the map would look quite different.

Maponics Context™ Demographics

Maponics offers Census and ACS data through our Context Demographics product, which projects demographics data – including languages spoken – onto Maponics boundaries.

Using Context Demographics, for example, you could see which languages are most common by ZIP Code, neighborhood and school attendance zone – which could lead to another series of entertaining language maps.