Asian Languages Spoken in Each State Illustrate Intriguing Demographic Trends

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Last week, Slate published a story on the different languages spoken in every state in the US. Particularly interesting in their findings was that once Spanish is removed from the rankings, Asian languages were the most-spoken languages in several states. The data was taken from the US Census Bureau’s American Community Survey, which is openly accessible through the American FactFinder website. The Slate article was inspiration to look closer into which Asian languages are the most widely spoken in every state.

Using the FactFinder’s 2012 1-year data for “Language Spoken at Home for the Population 5 Years and Over,” the Asia Matters for America initiative has found an interesting profile of Asian languages in America. There are 15 states in which Asian languages are the most widely spoken, exclusive of English and Spanish, and another 4 states wherein an Asian language is only second to the combined category of “African Languages.” California, Delaware, Hawai’i, Kansas, Nebraska, Nevada, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Texas, Washington, and Wisconsin are the 15 where an Asian language is the largest cohort after Spanish. Georgia, Maryland, Minnesota, and Virginia are the 4 where an Asian language is only relegated to the second spot by various African languages counted together.

Of these 19 states, 9 have more Chinese speakers than any other language, 3 have more Vietnamese, 2 have more Korean, 2 have more Hmong, 2 have more “Other Asian and Pacific Island Languages,” and 1 has more Tagalog.

Hawai’i is the only state in which Spanish is out-ranked by four Asian languages, with “Other Asian and Pacific Island” ranked first, followed by Tagalog, Japanese and Chinese, respectively. In that particular case, the “Other” category is largely comprised of native Hawai’ian speakers, rather than an amalgam of various regional languages.

In most other states, Spanish remains the dominant language after English, but Asian languages are closing the gap. When Spanish is excluded, many interesting statistics emerge. Utah is the only state where “Other Asian and Pacific Island” is the largest category, while Chinese is a close second there. In Missouri, where Chinese is second to German, there are estimated to be only 500 more German speakers than Chinese speakers, which is within the margin of error of the survey. In Texas, Vietnamese is the most-spoken language, and Chinese and “Other Asian and Pacific Island Languages” are the next largest cohorts. A similar story exists in New Jersey, where Chinese is the largest non-Spanish language, while Korean, Tagalog, Gujarati, and "Other Asian and Pacific" fill out the next four slots before a European language is reached. The number of Vietnamese speakers in Oklahoma is nearing the number of people who speak Native American languages, which is currently the largest cohort after Spanish. Virginia and Georgia are two of the states in which the combined category of “African Languages” is the largest after Spanish, but when that is broken into its component languages, then Korean becomes the largest single language in both states. The same is true for Maryland and Minnesota, where Chinese and Hmong become the largest single languages, respectively. In South Carolina, there are almost equal numbers of Chinese, Vietnamese, and Tagalog speakers in the state, though they remain behind French and German.

Overall, the picture may shift slightly if the various dialects of Chinese are counted separately, as they have been on previous editions of the American Community Survey, but in 2012 they were tallied together. The vast majority of Chinese speakers in the US originate from a single geopolitical entity, whereas the categories of “African Languages” or “Other Asian and Pacific Island Languages” both represent a broad range of ethnicities and nationalities, as well as languages.