Cultural Variety in the Mitt

What makes Michigan’s immigrant population truly special is the wide diversity in countries of origin. No single country of origin holds over 15 percent of the immigrant population, a rarity when compared to other states. Of course, with this diversity in countries comes a diversity in languages. Here are the five most common languages you might encounter amongst your Michigan neighbors.


It shouldn’t come at a surprise that Spanish is the most spoken second language in Michigan; in fact, that’s the case for 43 of the 50 states. The vast majority of Michigan Spanish speakers come from Mexico, making up 11 percent of the state’s total immigrant population. The number of Spanish speakers are further supported by populations of immigrants from other Central and South American countries.


Arabic comes in as the third most-spoken language in Michigan after English and Spanish, though what separates it is the amount of dialects spoken in the state. The majority of the Arabic-speaking population hails from Iraq, making up 7 percent of Michigan’s immigrant population. However, a non-negligible portion of the Arabic speaking population comes from Sudan. This population speaks Sudanese Arabic, the main dialect of their country that has been heavily influenced by the Nubian languages common to the region. Other popular dialects include Egyptian Arabic (sometimes called Masri) and Lebanese Arabic.


It should come as no surprise that the number one language in the world by primary speakers would make this list. While Mandarin is the most commonly spoken dialect of Chinese, other dialects have prominent populations, both in Michigan and the world at large. In fact, nine Chinese dialects have over one million speakers each. Yue, or Cantonese, is the most well recognized, but there is also Wu, colloquially referred to as “Shanghainese” due to its prevalence in Shanghai, or Min, the predominant dialect of China’s Fujian province.


Immigrants from India constitute 12 percent of the total immigrant population of Michigan, making them the largest immigrant demographic. Despite this, Hindi, the number one language in India, does not make this list. Why? Well, it may surprise some to hear that India has over 447 native languages, with 60 of those languages having over one million native speakers. The majority of Michigan’s Indian population hails from the state of West Bengal, where the predominant language is Bengali. Additionally, Michigan’s Bengali-speaking population is further bolstered by a thriving Bangladeshi immigrant community.


Part of the Sino-Tibetan language family, Burmese is the primary language of the country of Myanmar, with pockets of speakers originating from neighboring China, India, and Thailand. Because of its close proximity to both India and China, the Burmese language exhibits traits common to other Sino-Tibetan languages as well as Indo-European languages. For example, Burmese uses tones for its spoken language, similar to Mandarin and Cantonese, but its alphabet can trace its origin back to Brahmic Scripts, which is also the basis for the Telugu and Bengali alphabets.