Arabic is the “fastest growing language in the U.S.,” according to the Pew Research Center.
According to a post on the group’s website about the challenges Arabic presents to the U.S. census, Arabic speaking at home has surged by 29 percent between 2010 and 2014 among those 5 years-old and older. That means there are roughly 1.1 million Arabic speakers, which ranks the language as the seventh most spoken in the U.S.
For comparison, the number of people who speak Spanish at home grew by 6 percent.
Pew said the increase comes from “continued immigration from the Middle East and North Africa and the growing U.S. Muslim population.”
Of those who speak Arabic at home, Pew said 38 percent are not proficient in English. Forty-two percent of Spanish speakers reported not being proficient in English.
The growth among Arabic speakers may lead the U.S. Census Bureau, which provides data on economic and demographic trends in the U.S. by surveying households across the country, to add a “Middle East/North Africa” category to the 2020 census.
In the 2010 census, Arabic speakers filled out an English-language questionnaire, but were given a chance to use a Census Bureau provided “language assistance guide.”
The growth in Arabic speakers is causing the Census Bureau to look at how it can respond, but Arabic presents some unique challenges for translators.
For example the questionnaire now contains blocks for individual letters, but Arabic is written in connected script. Arabic is also a right-to-left language.
Arabic names are also problematic to transliterate because the letters in the Arabic alphabet don’t always directly correspond to English letters.
For example the common Arabic name Hussein could be spelled many different ways, including Hussain, Husein, Husain, Houssain and Houssein.