Navajo tops list of Native language speakers in US

By FELICIA FONSECA | December 14, 2011 | 1:45 PM EST

FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. (AP) — A northeastern Arizona county has the highest number of Native American language speakers in the country.

The U.S. Census Bureau says Apache County in eastern Arizona has 37,000 such speakers. The county encompasses parts of the Navajo Nation, the Fort Apache Indian Reservation and Zuni Pueblo.

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 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.

More people speak Navajo than any other Native American language, with 169,000 people, followed by Yupik and Dakota, each with about 19,000 speakers.