This map, created by Ben Blatt of Slate, shows the most common Native language by state.

What's the Most Popular Native American Language in Your State?


Using the American Community Survey—part of the Census—Ben Blatt of Slate has created some rather interesting language maps of the country.

The survey asks a number of questions, one of which is what language is spoken in your home, participants then fill in a blank box.

The map detailing the most common Native language spoken in each state caught our eye. Blatt points out that the most prevalent Native language is Navajo—with 170,000 speakers. Dakota is the second, but with far fewer speakers, at 18,000.

The Census reports that there are more Navajo speakers in Utah, Colorado, New Mexico and Arizona than there are speakers of all other Native languages in all the other states combined.

Another map, that points out the most commonly spoken language other than English and Spanish also shows that Navajo is popular in the Southwest, along with Tagalog—a language indigenous to the Philippines.

This map, created by Ben Blatt of Slate, shows the most common language other than English and Spanish by state. (Slate)

See Blatt’s full story and explanation of how he created the maps at

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Caƞtemaza Ironheart
Caƞtemaza Ironheart
Submitted by Caƞtemaza Ironheart on
I do not agree with these numbers. As a Dakota, and a Dakota language instructor, I know in Minnesota, the Dakota homeland, we have 5 first language speakers that were born and raised here. For other speakers that moved here from out of the state, that brings the number up between 20-30. I am an optimist but I'm pretty sure we do not have 18,000 Dakota (that includes Lakota, Ihanktunwan, Nakota etc. ) speakers. If we did, we wouldn't be scrambling to save our language like we are. -Cantemaza de miye do

Kukaahi's picture
Submitted by Kukaahi on
So... Navajo is the most spoken native language of Hawaii? Was Slate hoping Hawaiians are incapable of reading or lacked the necessary tools to use the internet? Besides the native Hawaiian language according to attendance at cultural events the most common mainland natives are Apache and Cherokee. If there are Navajos they keep to themselves in a remote section of the islands.

John Douglas
Submitted by John Douglas on
All those lines are lines of division, not unity. The Foreign language map is disconcerting - it's a testament to how much outside immigration is pushed upon all natives and citizens of this land as a matter of government policy and political gain. We have to ask why at least the three groups, natives, blacks and legal citizens (natural born) aren't given the utmost priority? The strongest lines should be those of our heritage, shouldn't they? Just a question, that's all.

hesutu's picture
Submitted by hesutu on
Good questions raised in the comments. The Slate article does include a link to its data source on the US Census web site, which is represented as actual enumerated data collected by them from 2006-2008 with a fairly small margin of error. Reviewing these census tables, Hawaiian is classified in their tables as a "Pacific Island language" and shows 16,864 speakers. In the Pacific Island language category are a number of languages totaling 94,563 speakers in Hawaii. In the category "other" languages Navajo has 43 speakers total in Hawaii and there are also 14 Apache, 15 Kiowa, 18 Dakota, 3 Keres and 32 Cherokee speakers. On the Dakota language issue, they have 18,804 Dakota speakers nationwide. I too am skeptical that all these numbers actually represent a direct enumeration of fluent language speakers. According to the 1980 1990 and 2000 census' had questions about this: Does this person speak a language other than English at home? What is this language? How well does this person speak English (very well, well, not well, not at all)? Then there was a "2011 American Community Survey" which apparently went out to a certain number of people and then the rest was some sort of statistical extrapolation. It seems the 2006-2008 table data Slate used had to have been somehow extrapolated from the 2000 data as that was the most recent count as of 2006-2008. Rather than 5% error or so I would suggest that it looks like a lot of these numbers are thousands or tens of thousands of percent off. Which makes you wonder how accurate any of their data is then.

hesutu's picture
Submitted by hesutu on
Looking in some more, the 2006-2008 values used are from the American Community Surveys done each of those 3 years. These sample the entire US in smaller numbers than the full enumeration. Census blocks with less than 200 people get 10% coverage and areas with more than 2000 people get 1.5% coverage, and in between sizes get in between coverage. It's not clear to me right now if their sampling numbers are the number of questionnaires sent out or the number they receive back, ie, if they keep sending out more until they get their coverage numbers. In any case, even contemplating that from 1.5-10% of each census block was actually surveyed for this language data, many of the numbers they have seem questionable. However, it doesn't ask about fluency, or being a native speaker, it asked "Does this person speak a language other than English at home?" If a person knows a few words or songs in a language, maybe they would list that language. Even so, I think we need to see some raw data for areas to know what is going on here since it seems quite likely there are enormous errors in at least some of their stated results.

Michael Madrid's picture
Michael Madrid
Submitted by Michael Madrid on
I figured that the Dine' would have the most often used language here in the SW, but what really surprised me are the small enclaves of Navajo and Hopi in the extreme northeast. THAT is interesting! How and why did the Hopi and the Navajo take up residence in the states furthest from their homeland?

Seaspan's picture
Submitted by Seaspan on
I have nothing against the map maker, but these maps are less than useful. Aggregating limited sample data into State administrative units completely washes out the information. A more useful map.... Number of Speakers of Native North American Languages, by County: 2006–2010, page 4 This map doesnt specify the languages, but it can be overlaid with the above map to get an idea. This map also has a less than ideal breakdown for a true study of Native languages, re: generalizing "less than 500" as one group washes out useful information. It should be refined to <50, 50-100, 100-200, 200-300, 300-400, 400-500. Unfortunately they probably did this because the ACS has a limited mandate to give: "communities the current information they need to plan investments and services. Information from the survey generates data that help determine how more than $400 billion in federal and state funds are distributed each year." So in other words, if the numbers dont warrant there is no money forthcoming. A better configuration of the data would be to support a better mandate: to track the process the assimilation of Native languages and to identify and support programs that seek to counter this process. With such a mandate a priority would be to identify counties with populations that 1) have sufficient concentrations of Native peoples, but low percentage of Native speakers, and 2) counties with sufficient numbers of Native speaking elders, but low percentage of Native speaking young people. At least those are my humble suggestions. I am a demographer, economist and GIS engineer,,, so I am attracted to maps in general and feel that a map is a value added product that should be useful especially to those it speaks to. I am looking for the original spreadsheet data to at least make a better map than the one the census offers. Unfortunately, public data is generalized or in a format that isnt useful for map makers -- I would need a spreadsheet with all the numbers on Native languages by county, those who speak it, those who dont, elders versus young people, if a Native speaking curricula is offered, etc. If I find this data I'll let you know, since making the map would be fairly easy after acquiring the data.