English is the most widely spoken language in Alaska and by a substantial margin. However, many other languages are spoken by Alaskans. The population of Alaska is incredibly diverse, featuring a mix of indigenous people and people from a wide array of backgrounds.
In many cases, a state’s immigration history and migration patterns play a significant role in which languages are spoken by residents. Here’s a quick look at the immigration history of Alaska, as well as the top ten languages of Alaska (besides English).
Alaska Immigration History
For thousands of years, Alaska was solely home to indigenous people. The earliest known explorer to arrive was Vitus Bering, a Dane who came to the region in 1741. Based on its location, many people from Asia made their way into Alaska, leveraging the Bering Land Bridge. Settlers from Russia came to Alaska in 1784, largely whalers and fur traders.
However, upon its acquisition by the United States, the landscape changed dramatically, particularly during the 1880s. In the 1880s, a gold rush and the development of fish canneries spurred more interest in Alaska, drawing in predominately white Americans from other states. Once the railroad arrived and mining grew during the 1920s and 1930s, even more settlers came to the region. World War II also led Alaska to become a military outpost, as it provided a pathway for attacking the Japanese. Ultimately, these events shifted Alaska’s population further.
However, in more recent years, immigrants from a wider array of countries have made their way to Alaska, as well. People from Canada, China, Colombia, Germany, Japan, Korea, Mexico, and many other nations have made their way to the state, making the population far more diverse than some would expect.
Top 10 Languages of Alaska (Other Than English)
Approximately 733,583 people call Alaska home. While the vast majority are English speakers, an estimated 15.6 percent (about 114,439 residents) speak a language besides English at home. Additionally, around 5.29 percent of Alaskans (approximately 38,807 people) have limited English proficiency (LEP).
Ultimately, that means many languages are spoken by Alaskans. With that in mind, here’s an overview of the top ten languages of Alaska (other than English).
1. Other Native Languages of North America
In census data, many indigenous languages are not calculated separately, but the information is collected. Alaska has a significant indigenous population, leading to an estimated 27,126 Alaskans who speak “other” native languages of North America. As a result, they have a population share of nearly 3.96 percent.
Spanish is the second-most widely spoken non-English language in Alaska. There are approximately 23,629 Spanish speakers in the state, giving them a population just shy of 3.45 percent.
Tagalog (including Filipino) is spoken by around 18,273 Alaska residents. As a result, Tagalog speakers make up almost 2.67 percent of the state’s population.
In Alaska, an estimated 5,873 people speak Ilocano, Samoan, Hawaiian, and other Austronesian languages. Together, that gives them a population share of almost 0.86 percent.
With around 4,097 speakers, Hmong is the fifth most widely spoken non-English language in Alaska. Overall, they make up nearly 0.60 percent of the population.
Alaska has an estimated 3,811 Russian speakers living in the state. That means that Russian speakers make up close to 0.56 percent of the state’s population.
Approximately 3,747 Alaskans speak Korean. That gives Korean speakers a population share of almost 0.55 percent.
German is the eighth-most widely spoken non-English language in Alaska. With around 2,819 speakers, they make up a little more than 0.41 percent of the population.
French (including Cajun) is spoken by an estimated 2,115 Alaskans. That leads to a population share of nearly 0.31 percent.
Alaska is home to approximately 1,843 speakers of Thai, Lao, and other Tai-Kadai languages. Taken together, they represent a little less than 0.27 percent of the state’s population.
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