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Published: Wednesday, 6/16/2004

Web site of language maps different dialects on tips of our tongues

BY LINDSEY MERGENER
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Finding out that 368 Lucas County residents speak Tagalog just got a lot easier.

In an attempt to please the linguistically inclined or culturally curious, the Modern Language Association of America is scheduled to unveil today the first interactive online language map of the United States.

The Web site - www.mla.org - uses data from the 2000 U.S. Census to identify the number of people who speak English or one of 30 other "most commonly spoken" languages by state, county, and ZIP Code.

Different colors on the site's online map show the concentration of speakers of various languages. The Web site also allows users to compare language and population statistics between geographic areas.

Besides Tagalog, one of the major languages spoken in the Philippines, the data include such other less commonly spoken languages in America as Yiddish,

Navajo, and Thai.

While the Web site does not provide the names or contact information for people who speak the different languages, people longing to know how many of their neighbors share their way of speaking - as well as businesses, international organizations, and other people curious about their area's linguistic diversity - may find the data helpful.

Rosemary G. Feal, executive director of the Modern Language Association, said the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, made the discovery of language resources in the United States "a really pressing question."

Census takers asked people in about 1 of every 6 American households whether they spoke a language other than English at home.

Those who answered yes - about 47 million people - were asked to identify the language they spoke. Of these, 77 percent said they also spoke English "well" or "very well" and 7 percent said they did not speak English at all, Ms. Feal said.

"The great benefit of the MLA language map is to be able to see in great detail the languages spoken in the U.S. right down to the level of your community," she said.

Ms. Feal said other benefits of the site include using statistics to encourage people to connect with neighbors who speak their language, as well as sparking American interest in learning new tongues.

Antonio Varela, chairman of the University of Toledo's foreign language department, said he is interested in the learning possibilities from the Web site.

"There may be something there I don't know about," he said.

Mr. Varela said he would consider bringing any surprising information from the site to his colleagues. The university may choose to respond to the unexpected popularity of a particular language by developing and offering courses in it, he said.

But academics and other Americans may not be the only people who will use the site. Mr. Varela anticipated that foreign companies considering operating in the United States may choose to consult it to learn where their language is spoken.

While the census received reports of more than 350 languages, those on the MLA Web site are the most commonly spoken in the U.S.

The languages, in the order of prevalence, are: English, Spanish, Chinese, French, German, Tagalog, Vietnamese, Italian, Korean, Russian, Polish, Arabic, Portuguese, Japanese, French Creole, African Languages, Greek, Hindi, Persian, Urdu, Gujarathi, Serbo-Croatian, Armenian, Hebrew, Cambodian, Yiddish, Navajo, Hmong, Laotian, Thai, and Hungarian.

Contact Lindsey Mergener at:

lmergener@theblade.com

or 419-724-6050.



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