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Historical Language Questions

Language Questions Used in Decennial Censuses

2000: (Collected for all ages; retained for persons 5 years old and over)
Does this person speak a language other than English at home?
What is this language?
How well does this person speak English (very well, well, not well, not at all)?

1990: (For persons 5 years old and over)
Does this person speak a language other than English at home?
What is this language?
How well does this person speak English (very well, well, not well, not at all)?

1980: (For persons 3 years old and over; tabulated for 5 years old and over)
Does this person speak a language other than English at home?
What is this language?
How well does this person speak English (very well, well, not well, not at all)?

1970: (No age for question; tabulations limited)
What language, other than English, was spoken in this person’s home when he was a child?
(Spanish, French, German, Other [specify], None—English only)

1960: (For foreign-born persons)
What language was spoken in his home before he came to the United States?

1950: (Not asked)

1940: (For persons of all ages; asked under the category of "Mother Tongue [or Native Language]")
Language spoken at home in earliest childhood.

1930: (For foreign-born persons; asked under the category of "Mother Tongue [or Native Language] of Foreign Born")
Language spoken in home before coming to the United States.

1920: (For foreign-born persons)
Place of birth and mother tongue of person and each parent.
Whether able to speak English.

1910: (Mother tongue was collected for all foreign-born persons, to be written in with place of birth; also collected for foreign-born parents. Specific instructions on correct languages to write in and a list of appropriate European languages were provided to the enumerator. Similar instructions may have carried over to 1920.)
Whether able to speak English; or, if not, give language spoken.

1900: (For all persons 10 years old and over)
"Can speak English" was asked after the two questions "Can read" and "Can write."

1890: (For all persons 10 years old and over)
"Able to speak English. If not, the language or dialect spoken" was asked after the questions "Able to Read" and "Able to Write."

1790–1880: (No evidence of language questions or English ability questions)

Note: The universe used for data collection may not be the same as in tabulations. In some cases, data were tabulated for foreign-born only or White foreign-born only. Consult publications.


Source: U.S. Census Bureau | Language Use |  Last Revised: November 15, 2010