HOW TO: Track Linguistic Communities in the US

Growing up, I used to hear about the existence of predominantly Portuguese-speaking communities in my home state of MA. Because my foreign language radar was only sophisticated enough to detect “language other than English” at the time, I never caught anyone conversing in Portuguese.

Today, when I stumbled upon the MLA Language Map and Language Map Data Center via Larry Ferlazzo’s blog, I was amazed at how simple it was to pinpoint not only these “elusive” Portuguese speakers but also speakers of dozens of other foreign languages.

Description of the MLA Language Map and Data Center [via]

The MLA Language Map is intended for use by students, teachers, and anyone interested in learning about the linguistic and cultural composition of the United States. [It] uses data from the US Census 2000 to display the locations and numbers of speakers of thirty languages and three groups of less commonly spoken languages in the United States. The census data are based on responses to the question, “Does this person speak a language other than English at home?” The Language Map illustrates the concentration and number of speakers in zip codes and counties. The Language Map Data Center provides data from US Census 2000 about over three hundred languages spoken in the United States, including actual counts and percentages of speakers. The Data Center uses data from the 2005 American Community Survey about the thirty languages most commonly spoken in the United States to provide a snapshot of recent changes in American language communities. In addition users can add to each map the colleges and universities that teach the selected language and can display fall 2009 enrollments for the language by undergraduate and graduate levels.

View the Language Map >>

The Data Center is a particularly powerful tool for tracking the size and growth of linguistic communities by region, state, county, city and zipcode. In MA, Portuguese is the third most widely spoken language, and the number of speakers increased by approximately 46,000 from 2000 to 2005.

My favorite Language Map feature is the “Prevalent Language Other than English and Spanish” filter. When applied to the Mainland US, it offers an awesome snapshot of cross-country linguistic differences. While the map is based on data from the 2000 Census, which was filled out by only one out of six families, it still picks up on both local and country-wide language trends.

Discover anything interesting while exploring the MLA Language Map? Let us know here!