German heritage in the US, cont'd

Harold Schiffman haroldfs at
Sun Jun 11 13:44:38 UTC 2006

Anthea is right, that it's *possible* for a larger percentage of Americans
to have German (or any other) ancestry than the 24% reported in the data I
cited.  And it's true that people pick and choose--some may declare what
they see as their *major* or *dominant* ancestry, leaving out bits and
pieces that are less prestigious, or less dominant, etc. And we know from
the Indian census that declarations can fluctuate wildly (as Khubchandani
has shown), e.g. declarations of Urdu as mother tongue rose in 1000's of
percentage points in some of the censuses. So Urdu declarations (especially
in South India) really mean declarations of ethnicity or religion (i.e.
Muslim/ Islam). Californians with Native American ancestry have declared
this in rising numbers in the 20th century, while in the 19th century we got
very small numbers. As Fishman has shown, I think, the "ethnic revival" in
the US meant that people came "out of the closet" (not his term!) on their
ethnicity declarations back in the 1960's when it was safe (or fashionable)
to do so.

The US census probably doesn't explain very well what they mean by ancestry,
so it's going to be whatever people think it means, or what they're proudest
of, or whatever gets them the most benefit.  But figures like 60% for German
do not appear anywhere in any data or censuses I've seen.

Hal Schiffman

On 6/11/06, Anthea Fraser Gupta <A.F.Gupta at> wrote:
> On the longer form of the 2000 census the ancestry question was free
> choice. There must have been a wide range of answers. I would guess that
> some would base it on patrilineal ancestry, others on the ancestry they saw
> as dominant. The answer did not look as if it could be fractional, so
> someone of mixed ancestry (most Americans, probably) would be most likely to
> choose one alternative. Despite this, 6m people chose more than one.
> In 2000 15.2% of the population described themselves as of German
> ancestry, and 8.7% as of English ancestry (see attached, from 2000 census
> website). We don't know how many of those declared multiples.
> But it's possible, isn't it, for 66% of Americans to have German ancestry
> and (picking a figure out of a hat, 'cos I couldn't find the 2000 results on
> the website) 75% to have 'British' (aggregated or not) ancestry? I describe
> myself as English but I have (that I know of) English, Scottish, Welsh, and
> Irish Tinker ancestry.
> I feel that there is a worldwide drive to make people have a single
> ancestral identity, and that these figures can disguise a history of mixing
> (coming from both consensual and non-consensual conception), just as a lot
> of figures on language background disguise bilingualism.
> Anthea
> *     *     *     *     *
> Anthea Fraser Gupta (Dr)
> School of English, University of Leeds, LS2 9JT <
> NB: Reply to a.f.gupta at
> *     *     *     *     *
> ________________________________
> From: owner-lgpolicy-list at on behalf of Harold F.
> Schiffman
> Sent: Sat 10/06/2006 21:57
> To: Language Policy-List
> Subject: German heritage in the US, cont'd
> When I saw the recent message from Bill Beeman, stating that "More than
> 60% of all Americans have some German ancestry"  I was dubious, because I
> remembered a figure of about 24% from the 1990 census. So I did some
> googling, and found this:
> **************************************************************************
> Who's Counting?
> The l990 Census of German-Americans
> The results of the 1990 U.S. Census indicate that the total U.S.
> population is: 248,709,873. The five major groups and their percentages of
> the total population are as follows:
> 1. German 57,985,595  (23.3 %)
> 2. Irish 38,739,548  (15.6 %)
> 3. English 32,655,779  (13.1 %)
> 4. Italian 14,714,939  (5.9 %)
> 5. Polish  9,366,106  (3.8 %)
> The "German" category does not include Germans from other German-speaking
> states and regions of Europe and the Americas. Hence, to the "German"
> statistic the following can be added:
> 1. Austrian 870,531
> 2. Swiss-German 700,000  (this is 70% of the total Swiss statistic)
> 3. Pennsylvania German 305,841
> 4. Luxemburger 49,061
> 5. Alsatian 16,465
> 6. German-Russian 10,153
> These six additional Germanic ethnic groups total 1,952,051.
> The total combination then of all seven German ethnic categories is:
> German 57,985,595  (23.3 %)
> Other categories 1,952,051  (4.8 %)
> Total 59,937,646  (24.09 %)
> The results clearly confirm that German-Americans constitute nearly a full
> one-fourth of the population. German-Americans take pride in the fact that
> they are the major ethnic group in America, just as they can be proud of
> their long history, dating back to the arrival of the first Germans in
> America at Jamestown, Virginia in 1608.
> The 1980 Census included a map of Where in the united states
> German-Americans lived...[map not included here, hs]
> updated July 26, 2004   Home to Tricentennial Foundation Web Page
> **************************************************************************
> [addendum (hs): Previously, "British" (or even English) heritage topped
> the list, but in 1980 the US census stopped aggregating British heritage,
> and divided it into English, Scottish, Irish, Welsh etc., at which point
> German then topped the list.
> Note, however, that a category "Hispanic" does not even figure in the top
> 5 in 1980; and unless immigration from all Spanish-speaking countries is
> aggregated, it still may not...
> If you go to an on-line US census page
> you get some statistics
> on language use in the US, which of course is different from "heritage"
> or "ancestry":  the largest percentage of a language other than English is
> of course Spanish, with 28 million, followed by "other Indo-European
> languages".  Chinese is spoken by 2 million...
> Hal Schiffman]
-------------- next part --------------
An HTML attachment was scrubbed...
URL: <>

More information about the Lgpolicy-list mailing list