Chinese language and varieties in the United States

Chinese languages, mostly Cantonese, are collectively the third most-spoken language in the United States, and are mostly spoken within Chinese-American populations and by immigrants or the descendants of immigrants, especially in California and New York.[6] Around 2004, over 2 million Americans spoke varieties of Chinese, with Mandarin becoming increasingly common due to immigration from mainland China and to some extent Taiwan.[6] Despite being called dialects or varieties, Cantonese, Taishanese, and Mandarin etc. are not mutually intelligible. When asked census forms and surveys, respondents will only answer with "Chinese".[7]

Chinese language are spoken throughout the United States, many of the Chinese live in Chinatowns, like this one in downtown Manhattan.

Chinese speakers in the US
Year Speakers
1960a 89,609
1970a 190,260
1980[1] 630,806
1990[2] 1,319,462
2000[3] 2,022,143
2010[4] 2,808,692
^a Foreign-born population only[5]

According to data reported on the 2000 US Census long-form, 259,750 people spoke "Cantonese", with 58.62% percent residing in California and the next most with 16.19% in New York.[8] The actual number of Cantonese speakers was probably higher. In the 1982–83 school year, 29,908 students in California were reported to be using Cantonese as their primary home language. Approximately 16,000 of these students were identified as limited English proficient (LEP).[9]

According to data reported on the 2000 US Census long-form, 84,590 people spoke "Taiwanese Hokkien".[10] The county with the most Hokkien speakers was Los Angeles County with 21,990 (0.250% of County population) followed by Orange County with 5,855 (0.222% of County population). The county with the highest percentage of Hokkien speakers was Calhoun County, Texas at 0.845% (160) followed by Fort Bend County, Texas at 0.286% (935) and Los Angeles County, California. According to data collected from 2005–2009 by the American Community Survey, 76,822 people spoke Taiwanese Hokkien.[11]

In New York City, Standard Mandarin Chinese was spoken as a native language among only ten percent of Chinese speakers as 2002, but was being used as a secondary dialect and replacing Cantonese as their lingua franca.[12]

Although Chinese Americans grow up learning English, some teach their children Chinese for a variety of reasons including preservation of an ancient civilization, preservation of a unique identity, pride in their cultural ancestry, desire for easy communication with them and other relatives, and the perception that Chinese will be a useful language as China's economic strength increases. Cantonese, historically the language of most Chinese immigrants, was the third most widely spoken non-English language in the United States in 2004.[6][page needed] Many Chinese schools have been established to accomplish these goals. Most of them have classes only once a week on the weekends, however especially in the past there have been schools that met every day after normal school.

A 2006 survey by the Modern Language Association found that Chinese accounted for 3% of foreign language class enrollment in the United States, making it the seventh most commonly learned foreign languages in the United States. Most Chinese as foreign language classes teach simplified characters and Standard Mandarin Chinese.[13]

Chinese (all varieties) speakers by states in 2000[14]
State Chinese speakers
California 815,386
New York 374,627
Texas 91,500
New Jersey 84,345
Massachusetts 71,412
Illinois 65,251
Chinese language(s) spoken at home according 2005–2009 American Community Survey[15]
Name Number of speakers Margin of error Speaks English "very well" Margin of error
Total 2,896,766 13,255 1,600,886 8,527
"Chinese" 1,867,485 13,875 1,054,885 8,578
Hakka 1,350 307 840 263
"Kan, Hsiang" 50 65 (D) (D)
Cantonese 458,840 6,487 257,625 4,433
Mandarin 487,250 7,953 240,810 5,571
Fuchow 1,450 455 1,175 418
Hokkien 77,675 2,687 44,140 1,939
Wu 2,670 466 1,375 287

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ "Appendix Table 2. Languages Spoken at Home: 1980, 1990, 2000, and 2007" (Table). United States Census Bureau. Archived from the original on July 24, 2017. Retrieved August 6, 2012.
  2. ^ "Detailed Language Spoken at Home and Ability to Speak English for Persons 5 Years and Over --50 Languages with Greatest Number of Speakers: United States 1990" (Table). United States Census Bureau. 1990. Archived from the original on July 18, 2018. Retrieved July 22, 2012.
  3. ^ "Language Spoken at Home: 2000". United States Bureau of the Census. Archived from the original on November 29, 2014. Retrieved August 8, 2012.
  4. ^ "2010 American Community Survey 1-Year Estimates: Language spoken at home by ability to speak English for the population 5 years and over". United States Census Bureau. Archived from the original on December 5, 2014. Retrieved December 14, 2012.
  5. ^ "Mother Tongue of the Foreign-Born Population: 1910 to 1940, 1960, and 1970" (Table). United States Census Bureau. March 9, 1999. Archived from the original on July 18, 2018. Retrieved August 6, 2012.
  6. ^ a b c Lai, H. Mark (2004). Becoming Chinese American: A History of Communities and Institutions. Walnut Creek, CA: AltaMira Press. ISBN 0-7591-0458-1.
  7. ^ Cooc, North; Leung, Genevieve. "Who are "Chinese" Language Speakers in the United States?: A Subgroup Analysis with Census Data" (PDF) – via
  8. ^ "Cantonese" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on April 2, 2016. Retrieved April 28, 2016 – via
  9. ^ A Handbook for Teaching Cantonese-Speaking Children (PDF). Sacramento: California State Department of Education. 1984. Archived from the original (PDF) on October 5, 2016. Retrieved October 4, 2017.
  10. ^ "Formosan" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on April 3, 2016. Retrieved April 30, 2016 – via
  11. ^ "Census Data & API Identities". Asian Pacific Institute on Gender-Based Violence. Archived from the original on June 9, 2016. Retrieved October 4, 2017.
  12. ^ García, Ofelia; Fishman, Joshua A. (2002). The Multilingual Apple: Languages in New York City. Walter de Gruyter. ISBN 3-11-017281-X.
  13. ^ "Languages in the U.S. Educational System". About World Languages. Archived from the original on January 11, 2017. Retrieved October 4, 2017.
  14. ^ "Table 5.Detailed List of Languages Spoken at Home for the Population 5 Years and Over by State: 2000" (PDF) (Tables). United States Census Bureau. February 25, 2003. Archived from the original (PDF) on January 17, 2010. Retrieved October 3, 2012.
  15. ^ "How Many People Speak "What Languages" in America". Archived from the original on April 29, 2017. Retrieved October 4, 2017.