Good news for Navajo?

In what seems like good news for Native American languages, the US Census Bureau has reported that 169,000 people speak Navajo.

That figure makes it the Native American language that’s most spoken in homes, but should be treated with caution. For a start, the survey didn’t measure fluency levels – it just asked if a language other than English was spoken in the home.

Evangeline Parsons Yazzie, a Navajo professor at Northern Arizona University, said the figure recently released by the U.S. Census Bureau is no surprise, but can be misleading. The country’s population of Navajos is well over 300,000. For every one who speaks the language, one doesn’t — and those are likely younger Navajos, Yazzie said.

“Navajo has the largest population, they say, of Native speakers, but it also has the largest population of non-speakers,” she said Wednesday. “And it kind of presents a skewed picture.”

The figure is based on five-year estimates from community surveys that allowed the Census for the first time to study small segments of the U.S. population. The Census found in a study released this month that fewer than a half-million people age 5 and over speak a Native American language at home. About 65 percent of them are in nine counties in Arizona, New Mexico and Alaska. (Source: ABC News)