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Languages of North America

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Title: Languages of North America  
Author: World Heritage Encyclopedia
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Subject: Languages of North America, North America, Outline of North America, Lists of languages, List of unclassified languages of North America
Publisher: World Heritage Encyclopedia

Languages of North America

The languages of North America reflect not only that continent's indigenous peoples, but the European colonization as well. The most widely spoken languages in North America (which includes Central America and the Caribbean islands) are English, Spanish, French, Danish (almost entirely exclusive to Greenland alone), and, especially in the Caribbean, creole languages lexified by them.

Indigenous languages

North America is home to a large number of language families and some language isolates. In the Arctic north, the Eskimo–Aleut languages are spoken from Alaska to Greenland. This group includes the Aleut language of the Aleutian Islands, the Yupik languages of Alaska and the Russian Far East, and the Inuit languages of Alaska, Yukon, the Northwest Territories, Nunavut, and Greenland.[1]

The Na-Dené languages, of which the most numerous and widespread are the Athabaskan languages, include the languages of central and eastern Alaska and northwestern Canada, as well as the Apachean languages of the Southwestern United States.[2] The Algic languages, including the large Algonquian branch, are widespread across Canada and the United States; they include Cree, Anishinaabe (Ojibwe), Mi'kmaq, and Blackfoot.[3] The Iroquoian languages dominate the area around the Saint Lawrence River and the eastern Great Lakes, but also include Cherokee.[4] The Siouan–Catawban languages, including Crow and Sioux, dominate the Great Plains.[5] A large number of small language families are spoken in the Pacific Northwest from British Columbia to California.[6]

The Uto-Aztecan languages are found throughout the Western United States, northern and central Mexico, and as far south as El Salvador; they include Hopi, O'odham, and Nahuatl (descended from Aztec).[7] Other large families in Mexico include the Mayan languages (also spoken in Belize and Guatemala),[8] the Mixe–Zoque languages,[9] and the Oto-Manguean languages.[10] In the Caribbean, the Arawakan languages were formerly widespread, but are now limited to Garifuna on the Central American mainland; the family is still well represented in South America, however.[11] The Chibchan languages are spoken in Costa Rica and Panama as well as South America.[12]

Immigrant languages

The two most widely spoken languages in North America by far are English and Spanish, which have hundreds of millions of speakers each. French is the mother tongue of several million people in North America as well. Together these languages reflect the three most important powers in the Age of Discovery: England, Spain, and France.

English is the predominant language of Canada, the United States, Bermuda, and the Cayman Islands, and is spoken alongside English-based creole languages in Anguilla, Antigua and Barbuda, the Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Grenada, Jamaica, Montserrat, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Trinidad and Tobago, the Turks and Caicos Islands, and the Virgin Islands.[13] It is also the official language of Dominica and Saint Lucia, where the French-based Antillean Creole is also widely spoken.

Spanish is the dominant language in Mexico and all of Central America apart from Belize, as well as Cuba, the Dominican Republic, and Puerto Rico (where English is spoken as well); it is also widely spoken in the United States.[14]

French is the dominant language in Quebec and Saint Pierre and Miquelon, and is spoken in Manitoba, Ontario, New Brunswick, Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, and Louisiana. It is spoken alongside French-based creole languages in Saint Lucia, Dominica, Guadeloupe, Haiti, Martinique, Saint Barthélemy, and the French side of Saint Martin.[15] French is one of the two official and national languages of Canada.

Russian was once widely spoken in Alaska as it was the language of administration, commerce, and the settlers there that often intermarried with the locals (they numbered no more than a thousand), creating a sizable biracial population. The language began to decline after the United States purchased the land from the Russian Empire. Despite this, the language, called "Old Russian" by its speakers, is still spoken today in parts of Alaska like Ninilchik and Kodiak by descendants of Russian colonists and Russified Alaskan Natives and is known for its archaic Russian vocabulary and indigenous influences, though the vast majority of them are elderly, meaning that this unique Russian dialect is heavily endangered.[16] In addition, there has been sizable, recent immigration from Russia in the past few decades, leading to a new generation of Russian-speaking Alaskans. Additionally, a Russian creole/mixed language, known as Medny Aleut language, was once spoken in some of the Aleutian Islands. Only a few elderly people still speak it.

Though no German state played a major role in the European colonization of the Americas, German people did found their own colonies. Pennsylvania German, Hutterite German, Texas German, all of which developed in North America, as well as Plautdietsch are spoken by descendants of these settlers in the United States, Canada, and Mexico.

Other immigrant languages include Danish in Greenland,[17] where it is spoken by nearly everyone (mostly as a second language) due to centuries of colonization by Denmark. Danish was once the language of administration of the US Virgin Islands before the purchase by the United States.Dutch in Aruba and the Netherlands Antilles, where it is spoken alongside the Portuguese Creole language in Papiamento.[18] In modern times North America has immigrant speakers of a large number of languages from around the world. For details see Languages of Canada, Languages of the United States, and Languages of Mexico.

See also


  1. ^ Eskimo–Aleut Language Family, accessed 2007-08-31.
  2. ^ Athabaskan (Na-Dene) Language Family, accessed 2007-08-31.
  3. ^ Algonquian Language Family, accessed 2007-08-31.
  4. ^ Iroquoian Languages, accessed 2007-08-31.
  5. ^ Parks, Douglas R.; Robert L. Rankin (2001). "The Siouan languages". In R. J. DeMallie (ed.). Handbook of North American Indians: Plains. Vol. 13, Part 1. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution. pp. 94–114.  
  6. ^  
  7. ^ Uto-Aztecan Language Family, accessed 2007-08-31.
  8. ^ Mayan Language Family, accessed 2007-08-31.
  9. ^ Mixe–Zoque Language Family, accessed 2007-08-31.
  10. ^ Otomanguean stock, accessed 2007-08-31.
  11. ^ Tronco de lenguas Arawak o Arahuaco, accessed 2007-08-31. (Spanish)
  12. ^ Macro-Chibchan, accessed 2007-08-31.
  13. ^ Holm, John A. (1989). Pidgins and Creoles. Cambridge University Press. pp. 444–84.  
  14. ^ Ethnologue report for Spanish, accessed 2007-08-31.
  15. ^ Ethnologue report for French, accessed 2007-08-31.
  16. ^ Golovko, Evgeny. 2010. "143 Years after Russian America: the Russian language without Russians". Paper read at the 2010 Conference on Russian America, Sitka, Alaska, August 20, 2010.
  17. ^ Ethnologue report for Greenland, accessed 2007-08-31
  18. ^ Ethnologue report for Aruba, Ethnologue report for Netherlands Antilles, accessed 2007-08-31.

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