Hawaii is the only state with two official languages, English and ‘Ōlelo Hawaiʻi, which is generally referred to as Hawaiian. English is by far the most widely spoken language in the state. However, Hawaii is very diverse, featuring a mix of people from a variety of backgrounds. As a result, many languages are spoken regularly by residents.
In many cases, the languages used by people living in a state reflect the area’s immigration history and migration patterns. With that in mind, here’s a brief look at the immigration history of Hawaii, along with the top ten languages of Hawaii (not including English).
Hawaii Immigration History
Hawaii has long been home to immigrants. Anthropologists believe that the first people to arrive on the islands were Polynesians, who arrived between the 4th and 7th centuries. During the 9th and 10th centuries, Tahitians came into the mix. However, the landscape began changing with the arrival of explorers. Capt. James Cook reached Hawaii in 1778, and in the decades that followed, Europeans and Americans came to the island. While they initially came seeking adventure and as part of specific industries – such as whaling – social and political turmoil in Hawaii opened the door to new types of immigrants.
As Hawaii experienced a period of decline, laborers from many parts of Asia – including China, Japan, The Philippines, and Korea – along with Puerto Ricans came in large numbers. Due to its positioning, Hawaii was also strategically important in a military context, and US military bases eventually became common. Over the years, immigrants from other areas also arrived in Hawaii. As a result, the overall population became quite diverse.
Top 10 Languages of Hawaii (Other Than English)
Hawaii is home to approximately 1.44 million residents. While most speak English as their primary language, 25.7 percent of residents above the age of four (about 370,130 people) speak a language other than English at home. Additionally, 12.39 percent of Hawaiians (around 178,440 residents) have limited English proficiency (LEP).
Ultimately, that means the residents of Hawaii speak a variety of languages. Here is a look at the top ten languages of Hawaii (not including English).
In Hawaii, an estimated 125,233 residents speak Ilocano, Samoan, Hawaiian, and other Austronesian languages. That gives those Hawaiians a cumulative population share of about 9.17 percent.
Tagalog (including Filipino) is spoken by about 60,019 people living in Hawaii. As a result, Tagalog speakers make up nearly 4.4 percent of the population.
Approximately 34,466 Hawaii residents speak Japanese. Together, Japanese speakers represent nearly 2.82 percent of the population.
Chinese (including Cantonese and Mandarin) is spoken by about 32,984 Hawaiians. As a result, Chinese speakers make up almost 2.42 percent of the state’s population.
With an estimated 31,421 speakers, Spanish is the fifth most widely spoken non-English language in Hawaii. In total, Spanish speakers represent a little more than 2.30 percent of the population.
About 18,710 Hawaii residents speak Korean. That means Korean speakers make up around 1.37 percent of the state’s population.
In seventh place on this list is Vietnamese. The estimated 10,121 Vietnamese speakers in Hawaii represent a little more than 0.74 percent of the state’s population.
Thai, Lao, and other Tai-Kadai languages are spoken by about 4,393 people living in Hawaii. That gives speakers of those languages a population share of a bit above 0.32 percent.
French (including Cajun) is the ninth most widely used language in Hawaii. It’s spoken by around 3,944 residents, so they represent nearly 0.29 percent of the population.
In Hawaii, there are approximately 3,357 German speakers. That means people who speak German make up a little less than 0.25 percent of the state’s population.
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