A new study of US Census data by the PEW Research Center in Washington D.C. concludes that Arabic has become a much more widely spoken language in the US with the number of people who speak Arabic at home in the US rising from 215,000 in 1980 to 1.4 million in 2021.
PEW co-researchers, Jeffery Passel and Mohamad Moslimani, said that according to their analysis, Arabic is now the seventh-most common non-English language spoken in American homes and that the growth has “outpaced” the growth among other languages from the Middle East region such as Persian/Farsi, Hebrew and Turkish.
More people in the US speak Arabic at home than immigrants from Germany or Italy, a reversal from 1980, the study concludes.
“We found a dramatic increase over the last 30 or 40 years in the number of Arabic speakers. This is people who speak Arabic at home. There may be other people who speak Arabic but this is a question specifically asking about people who speak it at home. The number has increased from about 200,000, a little over 200,00 in 1980 up to almost 1.5 million by 2021. A very dramatic increase,” said Passel, senior demographer at Pew Research Center and a nationally known expert on immigration to the US.
“A lot of it has been driven by immigration from Arabic-speaking countries, mostly in the Middle East. And, as you noted, a majority of those who speak Arabic at home are immigrants. About two thirds are immigrants. If you just look at adults, about three quarters are immigrants. They come from a lot of different countries. There is no one country that provides the largest number. But both Iraq and Egypt account for 13 percent of all the Arabic speakers, Lebanon at 7 percent and smaller shares from other countries.”
Passel added: “While there are Arabic speakers around the country, the largest concentration as a share of the population is in the Detroit metro area. The Detroit metro area accounts for 13 percent of all the Arabic speakers in the country. And almost 5 percent of the people in the Metropolitan area speak Arabic at home. And that by far is the largest share of any of the metropolitan areas in the country.”
The study also concluded that immigrants account for two thirds of those who speak Arabic at home in the US. The study notes that 53 percent of all Arabic speakers live in just five states, including California (17 percent), Michigan (14 percent), Texas (8 percent), New York (7 percent) and New Jersey (6 percent).
The Detroit region, according to the study, has the most Arabic speakers of any US metropolitan area, more than 190,000 people representing 13 percent of all Arabic speakers in the US and 91 percent of those just in Michigan.
“Since the 1980s, greater and greater shares of Arabic speakers in the US are now proficient in English. I think that is notable because it might indicate to some degree what is changing about the demographics about Arabic speakers in the U.S,” said Moslimani, a PEW research assistant focusing on race and ethnicity who co-authored the report with Passel.
The study also notes that the number of Arabic speakers proficient in English has risen from 54 percent to 66 percent.
“I think the major factor for Arabic and for a lot of other languages is the immigrants themselves coming here. In addition to the immigrants, the children of the US-born children of those immigrants often grow up speaking Arabic, and in many instances there is a desire to retain the language of the parents. So, a lot of the US-born who speak Arabic are probably children themselves of immigrants, or people who marry into married immigrants, US-born people who marry immigrants,” Passel explained, noting that the conclusions are based on Census data collected from more than 3.3 million people.
“I believe this is the seventh most common non-English language spoken at home. Some of the others have a lot more speakers, Spanish being one of them, but it’s the reflection of recent immigration. And I think the other factors you previously mentioned is the ties to Islam and the Qu’ran thoroughly make it an important language for people to speak. And, you mentioned German, you mentioned Italian, those numbers are going down partly because we are not getting as many immigrants from those countries and the people have been here longer. But this (Arabic) is a very rapidly growing, growing much faster than a number of other languages from the Middle East.”
However, Passel and Moslimani concluded in their analysis that the number of people who speak Arabic at home is only 1.5 million, which represents only about half of 1 percent of the total population of the US.
Passel said that the number of Americans who speak Arabic is probably even larger because some respondents may speak Arabic just outside the home and not at their home. This group cannot be measured by the data analyzed.
Passel and Moslimani made their comments during an appearance on the Ray Hanania Radio Show, broadcast on Wednesday, May 24 in Detroit and Washington D.C on the US Arab Radio Network and sponsored by Arab News.
You can listen to the radio show’s podcast by visiting ArabNews.com/rayradioshow.