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Mapping language use

Want to know how likely you are to hear Yiddish or Creole spoken in your neighborhood? Or what the most popular languages are in your community?

The Modern Language Association’s new Language Map displays the locations and approximate numbers of speakers of the 30 languages most commonly spoken in the United States.

You can search by language and state, and the tool produces an interactive map of how many people speak that language at home, by county or zip code.

The color-coded maps make it easy to see which areas have the greatest concentration of speakers of a particular language. You can zoom in or out on the maps to get a different perspective, or shift it in any direction using the “reposition tool” (the hand)and the map will automatically update with the appropriate data.

You can use the site’s comparison page to compare how common two languages are in one state or one language is in two states.

And for more detailed information, the data center page allows you to get complete tables listing estimates for the numbers of speakers of each language in the United States or by state or county; a table for each language, ranking the states in which it is spoken; pie charts showing the most common languages spoken in each state; tables listing estimated numbers of speakers by city or town; and tables listing estimated numbers of speakers by zip code.

To see how powerful this can be, go to the data center, enter your zip code and click on “show age breakdown.” You’ll get a list of how many people speak each language in your zip code, broken down by age.

It should also be noted that the form specifically asks how many languages are spoken in your home, so in many cases people might not mark off languages they know but seldom speak.