MWord has now gotten around that there are more people with German-speaking ancestors in America than those who come from English. It is much more astonishing that apparently a much larger number of US citizens actually speak German than was previously thought. The latest statistical data from the US Census Bureau shows that German is the most commonly spoken language in the home and in the family in many American countries after English (unsurprisingly) and Spanish (also not a sensation given the mass immigration of so-called Hispanics).
In North Dakota, German is the most spoken language even after English – even before Spanish. Similarly, Spanish, as the dominant second language, is only replaced by the Eskimo language Yupik in Alaska and the Filipino national language Tagalog in Hawaii – and French in the states of Louisiana, Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont. The latter is hardly surprising, since Louisiana used to be a French colony, and it is common knowledge that the Cajuns there speak French (or a Cajun dialect based on it). The other three states border on Quebec, the French-speaking part of Canada.
German parallel world was considered destroyed
In contrast, the still relatively high proportion of German speakers is astonishing. Around 1900, Germans of German origin formed the largest, most respected and best organized foreign language ethnic group in the USA with their own newspapers and a broad cultural life. But the compulsion to take sides for the home country and against the home of the ancestors in two world wars has largely destroyed this parallel German-speaking world. In the First World War there was even an anti-German hysteria in which 26 states prohibited the use of the German language.
The data of the census bureau, about which the online magazine “Slate” now reported, should not be understood in such a way that you could still travel through the USA today without speaking English (as was possible around 1900). There are just one million out of currently around 292 million Americans over five who say they speak German at home instead of English. This contrasts with a good 37 million Spanish speakers, 2.8 million Chinese speakers, 1.5 million Tagalog speakers, 1.4 million Vietnamese speakers and 1.141 million Korean speakers. Arabic was hard on the heels of German with almost a million speakers in 2012.
In addition, the statistics are based on questionnaires and say nothing about the actual quality of German language skills. But it is surprising enough that so many Americans still had the nostalgic need to tick German on the questionnaire.
It has nothing to do with “No Quarterly”
Incidentally, this has nothing to do with the fact that German has recently become a bit hip in the USA, for which buzzwords stand as much as the popularity of Germanist, Adorno fan and German lover Eric Jarosinski, who uses the pseudonym “No Quarterly” tweets. The statistical data on which the maps are based dates from 2007.
Rather, it is still the historical roots that determine language use: In 2000, 49.2 million of the 282 million Americans at the time (today there are around 318 million) stated that they came from Germans. This makes them the largest immigrant group ever. Only 26.9 million US citizens have genuinely English roots, which puts the former colonialists in fifth place behind African Americans (41.3 million), Irish (35.5 million) and Mexicans (31.79 Millions).
Wide German belt
What is interesting about the spread of the German language is that it is not limited to “settlement islands” – such as French, Italian (which is the third strongest language in the states of New Jersey and Pennsylvania), Chinese (now the third force in New York), Tagalog (which holds the same rank in California and Nevada) or the Indian languages Navajo (predominantly in Arizona and New Mexico) and Dakota (focus in South Dakota).
Instead, the German language flourishes in a coherent area that spans almost the entire width of the United States. The states where German is the third strongest language range from Alabama, Tennessee, Kentucky, Ohio and Indiana in the east to Arkansas, Missouri, Iowa, Wisconsin and Kansas in the Midwest to Montana, Idaho, Wyoming, Utah and Colorado in the West . Add to that, as I said, North Dakota, where German is the second most common language.
New immigrant languages dominate
It is meaningful that newer immigrants apparently no longer penetrate into the interior as they did during the gold rush and land grab in the 19th century (with the exception of the Vietnamese in Nebraska and the Hmong from the border country of Laos, Thailand and Vietnam in Minnesota). Newer immigrant languages predominate on the coasts. In addition to Tagalog, these are Russian on the west coast (strongest third language in Oregon) and Vietnamese (equally ranked in the state of Washington and Texas), Korean on the east coast (strong in Georgia and Virginia), Portuguese in Massachusetts and Rhode Island, and Chinese in New York and Arabic in Michigan.
In addition, one can assume that the relative strength of French in North and South Carolina, which are not traditional Francophone settlement areas, is probably due to newer immigrants from Haiti or Africa. In contrast, the presence of Polish in Illinois may have historical reasons as well as that of the Creole-French dialect in Florida.
All of this is not as surprising as the sustainable presence of German in the United States. Linguist Jesse Sheidlower, chief editor at the Oxford English Dictionary, tweeted on Tuesday: “German is much more common than I would have expected.” And “No Quarterly” also tweeted that he was pleased that he and his follower community with their passion for the German language are not as isolated as previously thought.
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