Rare Languages: A Deeper Dive into CLI’s Recent Additions

Contrary to common misperception, English is not the official language of the United States. In fact, the U.S. is among only a handful of countries worldwide that don’t have a federally established official language. Embracing linguistic diversity dates back to our country’s founding, and has paved the way for a rich tapestry of more than 350 languages spoken in U.S. homes at last Census Bureau count.

In addition to many widely spoken languages (like Spanish, Mandarin, Cantonese, Tagalog, Vietnamese), that 350+ figure also reflects numerous rare languages, or languages of limited diffusion (LLD). According to the National Council on Interpreting in Health Care (NCIHC), “An LLD is any language in a geographic area in the U.S. — like a city, county, or region — where the population of speakers is relatively small.”

One of CLI’s strengths is providing reliable access to LLD interpreters, and our interpreter recruiters are an integral force behind this. They continually recruit qualified interpreters in new languages to support the ever-growing diversity of our clients’ non-English speaking customer base. This expansion is guided in part by CLI’s proactive tracking of evolving language trends, emerging client requests, and refugee resettlement fluctuations across the country.

Related: Video Remote Interpreting Language List Doubles to Keep Up with Demand

Below are snapshots of a few of the new languages we’ve recently added:

Juba Arabic

Also known as South Sudanese Arabic, this language derives its name from the South Sudan town of Juba in the area from which it originates. Some debate exists about the extent to which Juba Arabic is considered a creole versus a pidgin language. With an estimated 20,000 native speakers and as many as 800,000 estimated individuals who speak Juba as a second language, due to a rapidly changing demographic situation, it’s difficult to know the exact number of speakers — or whether these estimates are increasing or decreasing. In 2011, South Sudan, which has over 60 indigenous languages spoken, declared English the official language of the country.

Zapotec

Rather than being a single language, this is actually a group of more than 50 closely related Mesoamerican languages indigenous to Mexico and primarily spoken in the state of Oaxaca. Despite approximately 425,000 speakers of all Zapotec varieties combined, most of the dialectal varieties only have between several hundred and several thousand speakers each, while several are close to extinction. In the U.S., native Zapotec speakers are most often found in California and New Jersey, and many Zapotec-speaking communities are bilingual in Spanish. Zapotec languages are tonal and are typically characterized by an extensive 3rd-person pronoun system based on noun classes (such as inanimate objects, animals, babies, and divinity).

Kissi

Although “Kissi” is the preferred spelling, it’s often used interchangeably with “Kisi” to describe the same Mel language of West Africa; other alternate spellings include Gizi, Kissien, and Kisie. However, Kisi, a Bantu language of Tanzania, is different from this West African language. Kissi Southern is the dialect spoken in Sierra Leone and Liberia, while Kissi Northern is the dialect of Guinea. Generally, though, they are closely related and both fall under the tonal language classification of Kissi. With approximately 500,000 Kissi speakers worldwide, it’s unknown how many speakers reside in the U.S.

You can see the full list of languages CLI currently supports as well as a list of the most commonly spoken languages in each country. Have any questions or new language needs? Please contact us — we’re here to help!

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