A report by the bureau's American FactFinder said although the majority of American Indian language speakers reside in areas where there are concentrated populations of American Indians or Alaskan indigenous peoples, only 5 percent of the residents of those areas speak a tribal language.
Sixty-five percent of tribal language speakers live in just three states--Alaska, Arizona and New Mexico. Nine counties within the three states contain half the nation's tribal language speakers, the report said.
After Apache County in Arizona, McKinley County, N.M., has the second most speakers at 33,000. Together, about 20 percent of all American Indian language speakers in the nation live in these two counties.
The most commonly spoken American Indian language is Navajo, with more than 169,000 people speakers nationally--nearly nine times larger than the second- and third-most commonly spoken languages of Yupik and Dakota, with each having about 19,000 speakers.
By Felicia Fonseca
Evangeline Parsons Yazzie, a Navajo professor at Northern Arizona University, said the figure recently released by the U.S. Census Bureau is no surprise, but can be misleading. The country's population of Navajos is well over 300,000. For every one who speaks the language, one doesn't--and those are likely younger Navajos, Yazzie said.
"Navajo has the largest population, they say, of Native speakers, but it also has the largest population of non-speakers," she said Wednesday. "And it kind of presents a skewed picture."
The figure is based on five-year estimates from community surveys that allowed the Census for the first time to study small segments of the U.S. population. The Census found in a study released this month that fewer than a half-million people age 5 and over speak a Native American language at home. About 65 percent of them are in nine counties in Arizona, New Mexico and Alaska.
The U.S. Census Bureau says Apache County in eastern Arizona has 37,000 such speakers, while 10 Oklahoma counties have just over 27,000 Native American language speakers.
The figure is based on five-year estimates from community surveys that allowed the Census for the first time to study small segments of the U.S. population.
The Census found that fewer than a half-million people age 5 and over speak a Native American language at home.