The Decennial Census occurs every 10 years, in years ending in zero, to count the population and housing units for the entire United States. Its primary purpose is to provide the population counts that determine how seats in the U.S. House of Representatives are apportioned.
Data about language were collected during the 1980, 1990, and 2000 decennial censuses using what is known as the "long form." These questions were asked of a sample of persons and housing units (approximately 1 in 6 households).
Language Use and English-Speaking Ability: 2000 (C2KBR-29)
Summary Tables on Language Use and English Ability: 1990 (from CPH-L-96, CPH-L-133, and CPH-L-159)
Decennial census tables on languages spoken at home and English-speaking ability are available from American FactFinder for the 1990 Census and for Census 2000.
Tabulations from the most recent and historical censuses are also available from the Census of Population and Housing Publications Web site.
Comparison of the Estimates on Language Use and English-Speaking Ability from the ACS, the C2SS, and Census 2000
Language Use and Linguistic Isolation: Historical Data and Methodological Issues. Paul Siegel, Elizabeth Martin, and Rosalind Bruno. Presented at the FCSM Statistical Policy Seminar, Bethesda, MD, November 8-9, 2000. [PDF - 221k]
Historical Census Statistics on the Foreign-born Population of the United States: 1850-1990. Campbell J. Gibson and Emily Lennon, Population Division Working Paper No. 29, February 1999.
How Good is "How Well"? An Examination of the Census English-Speaking Ability Question. Robert Kominski. Presented at the 1989 Annual Meeting of the American Statistical Association, Washington, D.C., August 6-11, 1989. [PDF - 599k]