The Languages of Burning Man

Burning Man brings together individuals from all over the world to a single community in which everyone participates as equals. One of the most exciting aspects of this melding of so many different people is the exposure to so many different cultures and experiences. Representative of this diversity among Burners is the wide array of languages spoken in Black Rock City.

Throughout the week at Burning Man, each person you encounter has a unique story and often has journeyed from far away to reach Black Rock City. However, the majority of attendees are from the United States, and so it is probably not surprising that English is the most commonly-heard language at the event as a result. 84% of Burners reported that English was their primary language. (Importantly, this is not necessarily the language they spoke at the event.)

2014.PrimaryLanguageEnglish (1)

What of the 16% of people that primarily speak a language other than English? First, it is interesting to note that this figure has risen for 2014. Whereas in the past two years, about 13% of the city primarily spoke a language other than English, this figure jumped to 16%. Given the attendance of 66,000 people, this represents about 2,000 additional non-native English speakers at the event.

2014.PrimaryLanguageOtherTrended (1)

Looking at which languages Burners speak, there is, as expected, a wide diversity. Most common after English are two of the romance languages, French at 2.8% and Spanish, slightly lower at 2.6%. Given that approximately 66,000 people attend the event, these numbers work out to approximately 1,700 to 1,800 people each—a significant portion.

Russian and German also had strong representation among this group of non-English speakers, with more than 1% of the community. Over a dozen other languages saw representation of less than 1%, with representation from every continent except Antarctica. For reference, if a language was spoken by 0.1% of the population, that means that about 60-70 people were native speakers of the language. While that may not seem like a large number, given the number of people one can interact with on a daily basis in Black Rock City, it means that you have likely, at some point, met and talked with people that collectively speak nearly a dozen different primary languages in Black Rock City, whether you realized it or not!


Finally, if this wasn’t enough to demonstrate just how much reach Burning Man has across the globe, over 1,000 people spoke a language not directly surveyed. While some languages may have only had a handful of native speakers representing them at Burning Man, in Black Rock City even just one person can have substantial reach, spreading their knowledge and experience to hundreds of people during their time there. Next time you’re on the playa, pay attention to the languages you hear and the culture they represent—each is the chance to make a new friend, and learn something new about the world!


Written by David DiTullio

Edited by Steven Michael Crane (Indiana)


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