While there is no official language of the United States, English is the de facto (meaning “in practice but not necessarily ordained by law”) language since the majority (about 82%) of the population speaks English as a native language. The second most common language in the U.S. is Spanish (about 10%), followed by Chinese, French, and German (each less than 1%). As an illustration of the most prevalent languages in the U.S., the year 2000’s census questionnaire was printed in six languages: English, Spanish, Korean, Chinese traditional characters, Vietnamese, and Tagalog. English, Spanish, French, German, Navajo and other Native American languages have been spoken in America since before its independence. Since then, nearly all other languages are passed on from immigrant ancestors or learned through education. As of 2009, approximately 337 languages are spoken in America, and 52 languages are known to be extinct.
The language distribution through out America generally reflects regional population dispersion. For instance, the Southwestern United States is made up of long-established Spanish-speaking communities that are now neighbored by large numbers of more recent Spanish-speaking immigrants. As it stands, the U.S. has world’s fifth largest Spanish-speaking population, behind only Mexico, Spain, Argentina, and Colombia. As of 2008, people of Hispanic or Latino ethnicity made up the second largest racial category with 14.8% of the population, or about 44.3 million people. This figure is projected to jump to 30% by 2050, meaning that non-Hispanic whites will no longer make up the majority of the population. As a culture, people of Hispanic decent tend to cherish their ethnicity and pass along Spanish as their first or second language. All indications suggest that the use of Spanish in America will continue to rise rather than fade away like languages such as Italian, Polish, and Greek, which are slowly dwindling as older generations pass away.
Also reflective of language and population dispersion are German-speaking Americans. People of German ancestry represent the largest single ethnic group in the United States. German, fifth on the list of common languages in the U.S., is vastly spread out but has concentrations in the upper Midwest and Pennsylvania where Amish communities speak Pennsylvania Dutch, a dialect of German. It is interesting to note that the commonality of German being spoken in America declined sharply after the First World War due to the perception that it was unpatriotic.
With the U.S. still high on the list of immigrant-friendly countries, there are a host of other languages that are somewhat common in America. Russian, Tagalog, and Vietnamese each have over one million speakers in the United States. These languages, along with Chinese, Japanese, and Korean, are used in elections in a handful of states. Furthermore, Hawaiian is used in state-level politics in Hawaii, and Louisiana declared French an official language alongside English in 1974. Other states and American territories that have taken it upon themselves to declare official or de facto languages are: New Mexico (English and de facto Spanish); Maine (English and French, both de facto); American Samoa (Samoan and English); Northern Mariana Islands (English, Chamorro, and Carolinian); and Puerto Rico (Spanish and English). Also, Native American languages are official or co-official on many U.S. Indian reservations.
As a richly diverse nation, the United States is said to boast more languages than all of Europe. And while English is dominant and can be relied on for most communication needs, there are still many day-to-day instances of linguistic challenges through out the country. This where companies like Translators, Inc. (www.translators.com) come into play. With over 300 languages spoken in just one country, Language Service Providers (LSPs) are often called upon to provide foreign language solutions, even when the customers aren’t really foreign.
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