Sociodemographic: Language

Socio-demographic Characteristics: First Language Other than English


2013 found a very diverse list of languages being spoken on the playa with English being the most prolific at 87%, and the remaining 13% comprised of 70 different origins.

The top five non-English list starts with Spanish as the second most spoken language at 1.84%, followed by French at 1.78%, Russian at 1.77%, other languages – which includes 50 different languages – at 1.77%, and finally German with 1.52%.

Language1213 (1)

This data shows the there was a slight increase in Russian language being used on the playa in comparison to 2012. Russian overtook German which was used more widely in 2012. Some speculate that this could be due to the art projects that were accepted from the correlating country. Further study into the relationship between art installations and the country of origin of the creators of the said projects could add some more insight to the fluctuations in languages spoken on the playa from year to year.

Written by:


Edited by:

Wendi Corbin Goulette


2 responses

  1. When i saw the number for Japanese first language attendees it struck me something was up. There are a whole lot more than 70 attendees from that background, or I don’t see how i could possibly be meeting multiple every year. The census is in English! So these numbers are more unreliable here than anywhere else. Also, it think it is likely to skew down the numbers on money spent in Nevada, since people from other countries are likely to arrive in town and provision locally.

    • Hi Parker East and thanks for your comment. About the estimated proportion for Japanese, I can add some elements to the discussion.
      First, if we take into account the margin of error of our estimate (which we do not post on the blog to simplify the text and the graphs), the estimated number of BRC citizens with Japanese as their first language could be up to 125, which is still a small number.
      Second, our question was about the “first language you learned and still use (aka native language) but it did not allowed for multiple answers. Thus, a proportion of the US residents with a Japanese background who are fully bilingual since birth probably checked english as their native language even though you might perceive them as “Japanese first language attendees”.
      Third, you are correct in saying that BRC citizens whose native language is not English (and foreigners in general) could be less inclined to fill out the Census. That’s why we did a random sampling of burners at the gate and assessed the proportion of attendees with english as their native language and the proportion of foreigners (see here for details on the random sampling procedure From the comparison between the random sampling and the Census, we learned that (surprisingly) BRC citizens with English as their native language were not overrepresented. However, foreigners were slightly underrepresented. We thus corrected the biases in the Census and the estimates presented on the blog are the corrected ones. I would thus say that the estimated proportion of citizens whose native language is not English is probably not underestimated.
      Fourth, it is however possible that (for example) citizens whose native language is Japanese are less inclined to fill out the Census form than those whose native language is another non-English language (e.g., German). I would guess that this element could indeed slightly bias the estimates (and underrepresent the “Japanese” category), but there is no way to tell specifically unless we decide to randomly sample at least 1 vehicle out of 5 at the gate.
      And last, I would say that personal experience can provide biased estimates of a population. For example, if you come from California, where the proportion of Japanese-speaking individuals is higher than in most other states, they might be overrepresented in your social network and in the places you end up going.
      Finally, about the possibility that the estimates for the money spent in Nevada is a conservative one, I would agree but not for the same reasons. Since the estimates are corrected to take into account the “real” proportion of foreigners, I am confident that their expenses are not underrepresented in the results. However, as a social scientist, I would say that most people probably underestimate their expenses because their calculations are often based on memory and that they probably forgot a couple of expenses.
      – Dominic Beaulieu-Prévost aka Hunter

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