Wednesday, June 08, 2016

People on the move -- many languages fetch up In USA

I suppose I should have guessed that something like this would be true, but I'm nonetheless a little surprised. Pew Research has a mildly interesting report on the challenges facing the Census Bureau in designing a 2020 questionnaire suitable for use by residents who speak Arabic. The number of Arabic speakers in country is increasing rapidly.

The number of people ages 5 and older who speak Arabic at home has grown by 29% between 2010 and 2014 to 1.1 million, making it the seventh most commonly spoken non-English language in the U.S. Meanwhile, the number who speak Spanish at home has grown only 6% over the same time period.

A list of languages commonly spoken in this country (derived from a 2011 Census report) reads a lot like a list of how long ago the USA Borg invaded or assimilated their previous habitat (with some variation thanks to voluntary migration).
  • Spanish: "With 37,579,787 speakers, the number of Spanish-speakers in the US has increased by 210 percent since 1980, with the highest concentrations in Los Angeles, New York, Miami and Chicago." Also, of course, in Puerto Rico where a Spanish speaking population are native born citizens.
  • Chinese: "Just about 2,882,497 people speak a Chinese dialect such as Mandarin or Cantonese, an increase of 290 percent!" I've recently learned that linguists insist that Mandarin and Cantonese are separate languages, not dialects. I'll leave that question to that 2,882,497 million of us.
  • Tagalog: This Filipino language has 1.6 million speakers. Most of us have probably forgotten the U.S. ruled the Philippines as a colonial possession, but its natives haven't.
  • Vietnamese: "With an increase of 510 percent since 1980, Vietnamese is the language with the biggest change." First we invade and fight a war, then we assimilate some lucky or unfortunate fraction of the displaced survivors.
  • French: The 1,301,443 French-speakers represent "a 28 percent increase compared to 1980." Fascinating. Are these perhaps West African migrants? Or wandering Quebecois? Somehow I doubt they are European French speakers.
  • German: speakers of this European language have declined by 30 percent since 1980.
  • Korean: another venue for a war past ...
  • And Arabic: "In 1980, there were only 251,409 Arabic speakers on record." It's amazing what empire and war, as well as globalization and people seeking their fortunes, can do.
All those Arabic speakers include embarrassingly few refugees from the mess we've made in such unhappy countries as Iraq, Syria and Yemen, but over time, I'm sure more of them, too, will fetch up in the imperial center.

And that says nothing about the speakers of Central Asian languages -- Persian, Urdu, Pashto, Dari, etc. -- that our military adventures have set on the move.

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