Friday, February 8, 2013

United States of Languages: West South Central

Earlier in the week we were in the South Atlantic and the East South Central regions evaluating the linguistic diversity of the United States. Today we're even closer to the Mexican border so expect some diversity, both ethnically and linguistically.

Tulsa, Oklahoma's second largest city.

The musical Oklahoma! is probably more famous than the state itself, whose name comes from the Choctaw words okla and humma, meaning "red people". Originally known as "Indian Territory", Oklahoma became the home of many relocated Native American tribes, including the Choctaw, Chickasaw, Cherokee, Creek, and Seminole tribes.

As in much of the U.S., English is the most-spoken language with Spanish in second. However, unlike most states, Native American languages are the third most-spoken languages with 0.6% of the Oklahoman population. There are many native languages in use in the state, though some have very small numbers of speakers. The Osage language, for example, likely only has a few remaining elderly speakers. The Chickasaw language is faring slightly better with around 75 speakers, and revitalization efforts underway. 


Since the state was founded by Spaniards and borders Mexico, it isn't surprising to find out that Spanish is spoken by many Texans. Nearly 3 in 10 speak Spanish, giving Texas one of the lowest percentages of English speakers in the country. Nearly a third of Texans speak a language other than English. Although the majority of Texans speak English, the language holds no official status.

Texas is also home to many Native Americans. The Alabama-Coushatta tribe has approximately 100 members who speak the Alabama language. Some members of the Kickapoo tribe also continue to speak their native language which is similar to the Meskwaki language spoken in Iowa

A prime specimen of mosquito hawk.

Arkansas follows a similar trend to the other southern states with English being the predominant language and Spanish being the second most-spoken language. Where Arkansas differs from the other states is that German comes in third, although it only accounts for 0.3% of the population.

English in Arkansas also features an interesting and distinct lexicon. A merry-go-round or carousel can be referred to as a whirlygig, while a dragonfly can be a mosquito hawk, both of which are now two of our favorite words.


The state famous for Mardi Gras unsurprisingly has a large number of French, including Patois and Cajun, speakers. Nearly 5% of Louisiana residents speak a variety of French. Spanish is actually the third most-spoken language in the state, which is rare among the other southern states where Spanish is normally found to be the second language. The variety of English used in Louisiana is considered to be typically Southern. Its notable features include e and i being homophones in certain words such as "pen" and "pin".

Next week we'll be concluding our linguistic evaluation of the United States of America as we head out west.