U.S. Census Bureau

7 Most Popular Native American Languages in U.S.

Tanya H. Lee

The U.S. Census Bureau’s 2006–2010 American Community Survey report shows that of the 2.4 million people in the U.S. who identify themselves as American Indian or Alaska Native alone (and who are over 5 years of age), over 70 percent say they speak only English at home. A Native North American language is spoken in the homes of nearly 15 percent. Roughly two-thirds of homes where a Native language is spoken are located in New Mexico, Arizona and Alaska, so it is not surprising that the most commonly spoken Native language is Navajo.


Navajo is far and away the most commonly spoken Native language in the U.S. with nearly 170,000 speakers, or almost 10 times as many speakers as each of the two languages with the next highest numbers: Yupik and Sioux. Navajo, closely related to Apache, is in the Athabaskan language family, which includes 44 languages spoken in the U.S. and Canada.

The Navajo Nation has started several bilingual language immersion schools for youngsters, two radio stations on the reservation broadcast in Navajo and English and the Navajo vocabulary has been expanded to accommodate modern technological terms. Diné College, Navajo Technical University, the Institute of American Indian Arts, Southwestern Indian Polytechnic Institute, the Arizona and New Mexico state universities and several community colleges teach the Navajo language. The Superbowl was broadcast in Navajo in 1996 and in 2013 the movie Star Wars was translated into Navajo.

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Central Alaskan Yupik has the largest number of speakers of any Alaska Native language; almost half of the Yupik population are speakers. Children grow up speaking Yupik as their first language in 17 of 68 Yupik villages, according to the Native American Language Center at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. The total Siberian Yupik population in Alaska is much smaller, about 1,100 people, but virtually all of them speak the language. Children in Gambell and Savoonga learn Siberian Yupik as their first language.


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