The Washington Post

How we stopped speaking Yiddish

In 1980, the five most common non-English languages spoken in the United States were (in order): Spanish, Italian, German, French and Polish. Thirty years later, the top five are (in order): Spanish, Chinese, French, Tagalog and Vietnamese.

That change, documented by the U.S. Census and flagged for us by Drew DeSilver of the Pew Research Center, provides a telling window into the demographic changes in the country over the past few decades. Check out this chart that details how the 17 most common non-English languages in 1980 have fared over the past 30 years. (Click the chart for a bigger image.)

Image courtesy of the U.S. Census Bureau

A few other interesting observations from the chart:

* Yiddish, which was the 11th most common non-English language in the U.S. in 1980, has fallen to last over the last two decades.

* The languages of Western Europe have been hardest hit. Italian was the second most common non-English language spoken in the U.S. in 1980 but in 2010 it dropped to ninth. German went from third to seventh. Polish dropped from fifth to eleventh. Greek from eighth to 14th.

* Russian is on the rise.  It started at 14th in 1980 but has soared to the eighth most common language in 2010.

Also, worth noting: The 17 languages included in the Census chart are the ones for which data is available going all the way back to 1980. And so, asDeSilver points out, "other widely spoken languages such as Arabic (952,000 speakers in 2011), Hindi (645,000) and Urdu (374,000) aren’t shown."

Still, the chart makes for a fascinating illustration of how the face -- and voice -- of America has changed over the past three decades.

Chris Cillizza writes “The Fix,” a politics blog for the Washington Post. He also covers the White House.



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Matea Gold · February 28, 2014

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