How many Chinese speakers in Box Butte County,Nebraska? The American

How many Chinese speakers in Box Butte County, Nebraska? The American
language tapestry, revealed

AP Online
Jun 16, 2004


News flash: There is not a single Chinese speaker residing in Box
Butte County, Nebraska. Which may not sound like a particularly useful
sliver of information _ unless you’re a Box Butte-bound speaker of
Chinese looking for someone to converse with out on northwestern
Nebraska’s lonely prairie.

Now consider that Allison Park, Pennsylvania, near Pittsburgh,
has 49 speakers of Arabic and six of Armenian. Yiddish, meanwhile,
is spoken by people in every state _ including two each in Montana
and South Dakota, suggesting that Billings and Rapid City aren’t the
prime places to pick up some killer smoked whitefish.

Why are we telling you all this? Because thanks to the Modern Language
Association, one of academia’s most venerable organizations, now
we can.

The MLA’s new interactive Language Map Data Center, which goes public
Wednesday, is a truly fascinating (“hen you yisi” in Chinese, “muy
interesante” in Spanish) glimpse into the tapestry of tongues spoken by
American citizens and residents. It’s a story told by 2000 U.S. Census
data, crunched and leveraged to linguistic and geographic ends.

“So often, when we think of languages and cultures that are not
Anglophone America, we think of the world out there _ foreign,” says
Rosemary G. Feal, the MLA’s executive director. “We don’t necessarily
realize how, in our own American globalized society, we’ve got all
these linguistic resources woven into the fabric.”

For anyone interested in language and culture, the site _ with its
interactive maps in bright purples and blues, easily navigable by
mouse _ is as addictive as a catnip-filled mouse for a kitten. It’s
hardly just a parlor game, though. In an era when study of all foreign
languages is rising in America, the possibilities are myriad.

Academics tracking languages can hone in on particular
areas and find out how immigrants from abroad are integrating
linguistically. Marketers who want to target speakers of Thai, Persian
or Navajo can find the postal codes where mass mailings would be the
most lucrative. Social service agencies can calibrate their work to
the ethnic breakdowns in their own communities.

“We incorporate the world in the United States,” Feal says. “We
always have.”

And on a planet of terrorism and wars where intercultural communication
grows more crucial by the year _ some in the U.S. government bemoaned
the lack of Pashtu translators, for example, during the first months
of the war in Afghanistan _ knowing the language resources in one’s
own community or state can be a boon to national security as well.

“There’s not enough accurate information about how language works
and how language is present in our society,” says Donna Christian,
president of the Center for Applied Linguistics in Washington. “There
must be a thousand ways that civic leaders could use this information.”

MLA developers initially conceived the language map idea as “a really
big poster” before the idea ran away with them and evolved into the
interactive operation. So far, they have mapped the top 30 languages
in the country.

They are working on an even more detailed second tier that will
be made available for crunching _ suggesting that before too long,
we will presumably be able to determine how many speakers of Uighur
have taken up residence in Walla Walla, Washington.

“For people in this country, to appreciate the range of languages
spoken here is so important,” Christian says. “There’s such a strong
feeling that English is the only language around. To get an idea of
how many languages are spoken here, that can give us all a better
sense of understanding of each other.”

From: Emil Lazarian | Ararat NewsPress