English Speaking in the US.

I’m having a hard time compiling a list to show a trend (if any) of English speaking population in the US.

I’ve found this from the CIA:
English 82.1%, Spanish 10.7%, other Indo-European 3.8%, Asian and Pacific island 2.7%, other 0.7% (2000 census)

It looks like the first time language was asked by the US Census Bureau was
1890, but the records were destroyed in a fire with very little having survived.

But even after that, all of the census data seems to have charges for accessing it (from various ancestry cites).

Can someone help me compile the answers?

I don’t have any numbers, but I can tell you it is getting harder and harder to understand the people at drive up windows.

Not a trend or change over time, but Ethnologue gives the figures of 210 million out of 293 million for English speakers, which is about 72%. and 22.4 million for Spanish, which is about 7.6%. As far as I can see, the third language there is Standard German, at about 6 million or 2%, but they don’t give figures for the various Chinese languages (Mandarin, Yue, Hakka, etc.).

Of course, these figures depend on your definitions and perceptions of language use, since most non-English speakers in the US will also be fluent in English, and many will be fluent in other languages.

Then politeness dictates you not interrupt this thread.

But we are not discussing the deterioration of PA systems at fast food restaurants and I am sure that most of them still understand you when you ask them if they want fries with their orders.

There’s a book you might want to find…your library might have it. It was put out by the Census Bureau for the bicentennial and just republished by them, called “Historical Statistics of the United States:1790-1970”. Parts one and two are online at the census bureau’s webpage, but as far as I can tell, it’s not in either section.

Here’s this, from the Census website, asking about language use, but it claims the question was first asked in the 1980 census, so it’s probably a different question than the one you were referring to. It might help for the past 20 years, though:


In earlier years, the question asked on the census was regarding “mother tongue,” the language spoken in the home at the time of birth. This could be misleading, of course, since a person may have been fluent in English even with a “mother tongue” of some other language. I have not yet been able to find any statistics for this on-line.

For some some old sampling (distorted because rust belt cities were disproportionately the destination of immigrants and the numbers do not reflect country-wide distribution), you can take a look at the Encyclopedia of Cleveland History’s section on AMERICANIZATION which mentions percentages of foreign language speakers from a couple of periods (but not consistently).

Another approach (depending on what you seek), might be to check census.gov for historical reporting of foreign born, presuming that England, Scotland,and Ireland provided English speakers while other countries typically did not.

It should be noted that sociolinguistic research is quite clear (many people’s perceptions to the contrary) - with any immigrant population, it seems to take until the third generation - the grandchildren of immigrants - before the population is entirely English-speaking. Interestingly, there is surprisingly little variation - on the order of a few percent - between different groups of people at different times in history. Despite the propaganda that English is somehow disappearing in this country, there’s no risk of losing some sort of culture war here, as immigrants today are learning English just as fast as they ever did.

If you can figure out a way to get good, reliable data, it’ll be fascinating to look at it. Given that there isn’t much variation in different groups when it comes to rate of language acquisition, my assumption is that the non-English speaking population should correllate pretty well to immigration policies.