Aside from politics, age and education are the major predictors of linguistic discomfort. Eighteen percent of whites younger than 30 said they would be bothered by a foreign language being spoken, compared with 43 percent in the 50-to-64 age group, and 45 percent among those 65 and older.
Among all racial groups, whites (34 percent) are most likely to be bothered hearing foreign languages, followed by blacks (25 percent), Asians (24 percent) and Hispanics (13 percent). Among Americans overall, 70 percent put their level of unease at “not much” or “not at all.”
The study follows a number of high-profile confrontations between English and Spanish speakers. Last year, a U.S. Border Patrol agent detained two women — both U.S. citizens — when he overheard them speaking Spanish at a gas station in Montana. In New York, a man launched into a rant after hearing deli workers conversing and threatened to call immigration authorities.
The United States has no official national language, although a number of states have declared English to be theirs. More than 1 in 5 U.S. residents speak a language other than English at home, according to census data. In many regions of the country the percentage is much higher than that. The data show that the majority of those foreign language speakers are also fully proficient in English, meaning they are bilingual by choice.
The new report comes on the heels of a Pew study on the nation’s demographic shifts. When asked about the projected makeup of the United States in 2050, some 37 percent of Republicans said that “having a majority of the population made of up of blacks, Asians, Hispanics and other racial minorities” would be bad for the country — the highest share among any demographic group surveyed. Nearly 60 percent of Republicans said that a majority nonwhite population would “weaken American customs and values,” while an identical percentage predicted it would lead to greater conflict between racial and ethnic groups.
Republicans also stood out in that survey for their skepticism of interracial marriage: One-third said “the fact that more people of difference races are marrying each other” was good for the country, while 16 percent said it was bad.
Other questions in the latest Pew survey shine a light on what’s driving Republicans’ displeasure with foreign language speakers: For one thing, Republicans are more skeptical of racial diversity in general. Thirty-nine percent of Republican respondents said it was “very good” that “the U.S. population is made up of people of many different races and ethnicities.” Among Democrats, 71 percent hold that view, as do 57 percent of Americans overall.
More than 1 in 5 Republicans support the view that having a population comprising “people of many different races and ethnicities has a negative impact on the country’s culture.” That compares with 12 among the total population.
Meanwhile, solid majorities of every demographic group — blacks, whites, Democrats, Republicans — would prefer employers not take race into account when making hiring decisions, even if doing so resulted in less diversity within the company.