Chinese language and varieties in the United States

Chinese languages, mostly Cantonese and Taishanese , 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] Over 2 million Americans speak 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
^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. During 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 “Formosan.”[10] The county with the most “Formosan” speakers was Los Angeles County with 21,990 (0.250% of the county’s population) followed by Orange County with 5,855 (0.222% of the county’s population). The county with the highest percentage of “Formosan” speakers was Calhoun County, Texas at 0.845% (160 speakers) followed by Fort Bend County, Texas at 0.286% (935 speakers) and Los Angeles County, California. According to data collected during 2008-2012 by the American Community Survey, 77,630 people aged 5 and older spoke “Formosan” at home.[11]

In New York City, although Standard Mandarin Chinese is spoken as a native language among only ten percent of Chinese speakers, it is used as a secondary dialect and is replacing Cantonese as their lingua franca.[12] In addition, immigration from Fujian, particularly Fuzhou is bringing an increasingly large number of Eastern Min speakers. Wu varieties like Shanghainese and Suzhounese, and the mutually unintelligible Wenzhounese are now spoken by a minority of recent Chinese immigrants hailing from Jiangsu, Zhejiang, and Shanghai.[citation needed]

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
New York
New Jersey

About 40% of all Chinese-speakers in the United States live in California.

Chinese language(s) spoken at home according to 2009-2013 American Community Survey[15]
Language Number of speakers Margin of error Speak English less than “very well” Margin of error
Chinese (including Cantonese, Mandarin, other Chinese languages) 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 Data withheld to avoid disclosure. Data withheld to avoid disclosure.
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
Formosan 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". United States Census Bureau. 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". United States Census Bureau. 1990. Retrieved July 22, 2012.
  3. ^ "Language Spoken at Home: 2000". United States Bureau of the Census. 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. Retrieved December 14, 2012.
  5. ^ "Mother Tongue of the Foreign-Born Population: 1910 to 1940, 1960, and 1970". United States Census Bureau. March 9, 1999. Retrieved August 6, 2012.
  6. ^ a b c Lai, H. Mark (2004). Becoming Chinese American: A History of Communities and Institutions. AltaMira Press. ISBN 0-7591-0458-1.
  7. ^ Who are “Chinese” Language Speakers in the United States? A Subgroup Analysis with Census Data North Cooc*! Department of Special Education The University of Texas at Austin Genevieve Leung Department of Rhetoric and Language Asian Pacific American Studies University of San Francisco
  8. ^ "Archived copy" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on April 2, 2016. Retrieved April 28, 2016.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  9. ^ "A Handbook for Teaching Cantonese-Speaking Children" (PDF). Retrieved October 4, 2017.
  10. ^ "Archived copy" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on April 3, 2016. Retrieved April 30, 2016.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  11. ^ "Census Data / API Identities - Research & Statistics - Resources Publications Research Statistics - Asian Pacific Institute on Gender-Based Violence". 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". 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). United States Census Bureau. February 25, 2003. Retrieved October 3, 2012.
  15. ^ "How many Albanian speakers are in the United States?". Retrieved October 4, 2017. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)