Data Added to the MLA Language Map

Want to know what state has the highest concentration of Hungarian speakers or where Arabic is taught in your area? The MLA Language Map, which displays the locations and numbers of speakers of thirty languages commonly spoken in the United States, and the Language Map Data Center now include data from the 2006–10 American Community Survey. The addition allows you to compare 2000 and 2010 language communities through tables and graphs generated in the data center and to view up-to-date demographic information on the map. You can also use the map to find out which colleges and universities teach a given language and to retrieve fall 2009 enrollment data for those institutions. Enrollments for African, Native American, Pacific Island, and Scandinavian languages, previously available only in aggregate form, are now identified by name on the map.

9 Comments

Eva Livia Corredor, Ph.D.

I would love to see a map that shows where the various foreign languages are spoken the most in the USA and how that changed over the years. I am particularly interested in Hungarian, French and German but also in the Asian languages.

David Goldberg

It’s difficult to track immigrant languages in the US across time because the Census changed the question it asked about language use throughout the 20th century. Questions were asked about mother tongue, then about language spoken as a child at home, then about language spoken at home in country of origin and language spoken by parents. Since 1980, the question has been consistent: what language other than English is spoken at home, so at least we have parallel data for the last four decades. Census questions about immigrants’ country of origin is easier to compare across time, and there’s a terrific interactive NY Times map that does that at http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2009/03/10/us/20090310-immigration-explorer.html. (The MLA Language map does something different: focusing on the current state of things, it combines a visualization of where languages are spoken with information about where they are taught and how many students study them. )

Susan Rosenstreich

Mr. Pressman’s need for the language map is right on. Not only do language frequency and density affect how we teach; they affect WHAT we teach. My institution is located in a region with a large Haitian Creole population. I was able to offer courses in Caribbean Creole literatures using both original and translated texts. These courses enriched our curriculum immeasurably, and teaching some of the courses in translation opened the minds of Anglophone students to a Caribbean culture they had never known existed.

David Goldberg

Apologies to anyone who was blocked from getting into the Language Map and thanks to those who let us know that the site was down. We have bumped up the map’s capacity for simultaneous visitors and seem to be up and running again. Please do alert languagemap@mla.org if the site doesn’t respond.

Theodore Fiedler

I just noticed that you are using the dated term Serbo-Croatian to identify the language that linguists now refer to as Bosnian-Croatian-Serbian.

Brenda Brueggemann

Dear MLA:
I have been patient…. for a long, long, very loooooong time. But my patience now grows thin. I have been an MLA member for over 20 years and was, in fact, one of the initial members (and co-chair) of the MLA’s Committee on Disability Issues in the Profession.

But ASL (American Sign Language) is STILL not on the Language Map?!?! How can this be???
You do have it in the “enrollments”–demonstrating that the number of students enrolled in ASL courses at colleges around the country continues to climb and climb: 60,781 (2002); 78,829 (2006); 91,763 (2009).

It should definitely be registering on the map then?

Can someone PLEASE explain this???

Brenda Brueggemann
Professor, English & Disability Studies
The Ohio State University

David Goldberg

Dear Professor Brueggemann,

I write as the MLA staff member responsible for the Language Map. We want to include ASL on the map. The only reason that we do not include ASL is that the map reports data collected by the US Census Bureau (now, the American Community Survey/ACS). The Census and the ACS’s approach to ASL, unfortunately, is to count ASL speakers as speakers of English. However inaccurate and exclusionary this may be, it is a limitation that we are stuck with as long as we use US Census and ACS data. For all other languages spoken in the US, these are by far the best sources available.

Members of MLA have joined members of the Linguistics Society of America (LSA) over the years in lobbying the Census about its approach to ASL, and I hope you will add your voice. You can write to Kurt J. Bauman , Chief of the Education and Social Stratification Branch, United States Census. We actually managed, through Kurt, to get the Census to add a video of instructions in ASL on how to complete the ACS a few years ago (it is no longer on their site), but adding ASL to the list of languages that the questionnaire recognizes seems to be more complicated.

I wish the situation were otherwise. The most recent estimates of the numbers of US speakers of ASL are more than a quarter of a century old and vary between 500,000 and 2,000,000 (http://library.gallaudet.edu/dr/faq-asl-rank.html ). The US Census is the organization best suited to collect the data we need, but they need to be convinced to find a way to introduce this change in their processes.

There is no reason not to be optimistic. Ten years ago the Census referred to the Hmong language with the popular but derogatory nickname, Miao. Now they don’t. Today they mentioned that they would consider changing the category Serbo-Croatian to Bosnian-Croatian-Serbian (someone should write them). Adding ASL apparently is more problematic than rearranging a name, but they seem to me responsive to public pressure.

I hope this is helpful.

All the best,
David Goldberg

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