Defense Language Institute Enrollment Data.

Drab title, I know; I was tempted to call the post “Why Provençal?” but I opted for the tediously factual one. Trust me, the link is fantastic and makes up for the drabness; the Monterey County Weekly had the brilliant idea of asking the Defense Language Institute for enrollment rates for each language of instruction from 1963 to the present, and Asaf Shalev’s article is the result:

The data first arrived from the DLI in a format that made it hard to use: computer printouts that were scanned and turned into digital images. With the help of optical character recognition and data extraction tools, the Weekly transformed the scanned printouts into a proper database, allowing for in-depth analysis of the history of foreign language education in the U.S. Department of Defense. It took more than three months to gather, analyze and visualize the data. To our knowledge, this is the first time such a project has ever been carried out. Even DLI itself doesn’t have a database of this sort and could not readily produce a similar analysis, according to former commandant Dino Pick.

They did a terrific job putting it in visual form; the first chart, “How the DLI’s focus shifts with world events,” makes the change from Eastern European languages (mainly Russian) to Middle Eastern languages (mainly Arabic) crystal clear, and the second, “Enrollment at Defense Language Institute 1963-2018,” is an exciting year-by-year race (just watch Chinese and Persian overtaking each other in recent years). There’s a “Searchable database of language enrollment at DLI” and “DLI language with highest enrollment 1965-2018,” and at the end comes “All the languages and dialects ever taught at DLI, in order from highest total enrollment to lowest,” from which we learn that a single person was taught Provençal in 1983. Why Provençal? At any rate, I highly recommend a visit to the link — thanks, Bathrobe!


  1. David Eddyshaw says

    We recognize you are attempting to access this website from a country belonging to the European Economic Area (EEA) including the EU which enforces the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and therefore access cannot be granted at this time.

    O, the irony …
    Is there to be no benefit at all from our national folly?

  2. David Eddyshaw says

    (Same when I claimed to be in Israel. Can’t be bothered to set up a VPN to pretend to be a lawless GDPR-flouting American at this time of night.)

  3. No problem from Mongolia 🙂

  4. David Eddyshaw says

    The spirit of Temüjin lives on! GDPRs are for the weak!

  5. Is there to be no benefit at all from our national folly?

    Fish! You are forgetting fish.

  6. Is there to be no benefit at all from our national folly?

    Eventually, perhaps; but as things now stand, the GDPR will be a treaty obligation of the UK until the end of 2020, not to mention a matter of UK domestic law which Badenov has said he will not repeal.

  7. David Eddyshaw says

    Fish! You are forgetting fish.

    So long, and thanks for all the …

  8. Very interesting that in early 1963, New Testament Greek was the most popular language. Was that around the time that the military invented a time machine?

  9. How can an author with such an Israeli name recognize that 1986 was the year Vanunu was captured and completely miss the Pollard affair?

  10. Maybe that student was just ahead of his or her time (and, sadly, I can’t help but think Terry Jones would have had something to say about this):

  11. I came up with possible explanation – some USAF officers are regularly sent as exchange officers to the French Air Force Academy located in Salon de Provence, France. As I understand, before being sent there they undergo language training at DLI and apparently one very thorough officer ordered training course in Provençal too.

    Just in case….

  12. Is there to be no benefit at all from our national folly?

    Doch, doch, the Agriculture Bill (providing it doesn’t get fucked up) could be a huge environmental benefit, impossible before brexit because of the EU Common Agricultural Policy.

  13. David Marjanović says

    Michael Gove is environment secretary? I’m gonna sing the doom song now.

  14. I agree this is a most interesting post and well worth using a VPI on.

    The system of excellent graphics (I esp. like the moving bar charts) was invented for popular use by a British firm called Flourish.

    Michael Gove is environment secretary?

    Only till next month. It’s predicted that ‘Lord’ Goldsmith – formerly Zac until he lost his seat, Richmond Park (my mother’s constituency), to a Lib Dem chartered accountant who claims to “really like Richmond Park”, so he had to be moved upstairs – will be the next Environment Sec. He’s a fairly good environmentalist, at least he’s interested.

  15. The graphics is absolutely delightful. Just to be a pedant, those are Pareto charts, not simply bar graphs. In Pareto charts the bars are ordered largest to smallest. The difference is that as the time goes by, the bars should be reordered, not simply change their size. That’s what makes this motion pictures so fabulous.

    so he had to be moved upstairs
    And, in short order, up North.

  16. David Eddyshaw says

    Sorry to see Swahili plummetting off the list in blink-and-you’ll-miss-it fashion in the ninteen-sixties. But not very surprised, I suppose.

    I suspect that they could have done with more people learning Cambodian.

  17. Pareto charts – what a fabulous piece of knowledge. Now the question is how to remember it.

    Up North.
    I have spread the idea far and wide of building a unicameral parliament half way up the UK in Morecambe, which is (lidderally) next door to Lancaster and where do they propose? York! It’s not a bad compromise; a nice place, and there’s an Archbishop of York, so a precedent, but what good is the Lords without the Commons?

  18. Stu Clayton says

    Pareto charts – what a fabulous piece of knowledge.

    # But the chart [type] was created by Joseph Juran, a qualitician. #

    That shouldn’t surprise, since Excel didn’t exist when Pareto did.

    The origins of charts – Pareto chart

  19. Constantine the Great was proclaimed emperor by the army at Eboracum (modern-day York) in AD 306.

    OK, maybe it’s not the best example of British democracy…

  20. Stu Clayton says

    I discovered this week a field of thoughtful discussion hitherto thankful-wise unknown to me: the classification of democracies. There are participatory and deliberative kinds. With Constantine in mind, we can add adulatory (or credulatory, as some might prefer).

  21. Sorry to see Swahili plummetting off the list in blink-and-you’ll-miss-it fashion in the ninteen-sixties.

    And here I thought you were going to complain about the absence of Kusaal.

  22. Lack of a reason for the US military to study your language is a blessing, I think.

  23. Very true. “Happy the people that has no DLI class for their language!”

  24. David Eddyshaw says


  25. Stu Clayton says

    English has suffered greatly from being the lingua romana of a hedgefunnymonied military empire. Everybody and his cat thinks they can speak English since they must. Look what happened to Latin.

  26. In some countries, people speak English. But not like us, hiding our native language in hand luggage, in a cosmetic bag and using English only when traveling, in foreign countries and with strangers. It’s hard to imagine, but English is indeed their language! Often the only one. They have nothing to return to or turn to in moments of doubt.

    How lost they must be in a world where any instruction, text of the most stupid song, menu in a restaurant, business correspondence, buttons in the elevator – everything exists in their private language. Anyone can understand their words at any moment, and notes should probably be specially encrypted. Wherever they are, everyone has unlimited access to them – everything and everyone.

    I heard that there are already proposals to take them under protection, maybe even give some small language to them, from those extinct, unclaimed: let them have something personal, their own.

    (Olga Tokarchuk, “Runners”)

  27. David Marjanović says

    I’ve heard a few Hungarians say they have this amazing privacy abroad…

  28. Stu Clayton says

    Still gotta be careful. In 1974 I took a big driving vacation in the US with a German friend. In Salt Lake City we walked around, and at one point were waiting for the pedestrian light to turn green. Since I had heard nothing but English on the whole trip, I somehow figured it was safe to relate certain extremely gross events to him in German. As the light turned green, some people who also were waiting started speaking German to each other. Imagine my embarassment.

  29. John Cowan says

    There is a huge Quora thread about funny incidents that happen when you’re speaking Yookoohoo in front of people who turn out to speak fluent Yookoohoo themselves, despite their obvious ethnic origin in Lower Slobbovia.

  30. David Eddyshaw says

    I encountered this myself in Istanbul in the 1980’s when addressing irritating street-hawkers in very demotic Greek; sadly, all this really shows is how very ignorant I was of the local history back in those days.

  31. I think Istanbul street-hawkers speak at least some of every language known to man.

  32. @ SFReader

    Nice quote!

  33. Athel Cornish-Bowden says

    I’ve heard a few Hungarians say they have this amazing privacy abroad…

    Some years ago I read a book by someone who had been the UK Ambassador to various countries, including Hungary. He said that he didn’t learn to speak Hungarian, but could identify the language when he heard it, and had learned to say “I do not speak Hungarian”, and knew which word meant “not”. One day long afterwards he was in a train in which there was a group of people speaking Hungarian in an animated manner, and he thought from their gestures that they were making rude remarks about the other passengers. When he arrived at his stop he said, in Hungarian “I speak Hungarian”, and then got off. The looks of horror on their faces made it clear that they had overestimated the amazing privacy.

  34. @Stu, if there were anywhere in the US, I would have expected such a story outside of New York and Washington, Salt Lake City would be the place. When I served my LDS mission, the Provo Missionary Training Center taught some three dozen languages. Currently, the LDS Church claims on their website to now teach 50 languages at the MTC “including Icelandic and Malagasy”.

    Even the least capable of my fellow missionaries were able to pick up the mission language albeit while retaining their own accent. A few of us with a better ear for languages were mistaken for educated locals.

  35. Hungarians everywhere, for those who missed it a decade ago.

  36. John Cowan says

    And “Over chess, everybody speaks Russian” half a decade ago, including two “omit-the-negator” stories, of which only one reappears on this page (but it was a near thing).

  37. “Anyone can understand their words at any moment,”

    Hehe… and this is how we “fool the foreigner”.

    But this is exactly why the dialects of at least three or four Sinitic languages will survive.

  38. Ok, Provencal had one student in 1983. But why on Earth is Czech (language I teach) 9th. Ahead of Polish, Hebrew, Turkish, even Vietnamese (no wonder the war went so badly with this level of focus). I can understand the geopolitical and even military tactical reasons for teaching it at all but the relative numbers are puzzling.

  39. J.W. Brewer says

    I may have linked to this before, but here’s an amusing entry in the bystanders-noone-expected-to-understand-Yookoohoo category — you’ve got to scroll down to the last two paragraphs, because the anecdote is presented as a footnote to a story about something else. This is a second-hand account and two or three years ago I was talking to the actual eyewitness (Emmanuel) at a cocktail party and asked him about it and he said it actually happened in Brussels not Paris.

  40. What it doesn’t mention is the reaction of the Senegalese.

  41. J.W. Brewer says

    To Dominik Lukes’ question, w/o addressing the other languages he mentions, one plausible reason why Czech might have been taught more than Polish is that unlike Poland Czechoslovakia was right on the NATO/Warsaw-Pact land border. American troops stationed just inside West Germany by a mile or two could and did eavesdrop on radio communications among the opposing military right across the border, and the conversations they were eavesdropping on not conducted in German or Russian were more likely to be in Czech than any other third-language possibility. Eavesdropping on Polish conversations would by contrast probably be more of a CIA thing than a regular-military thing.

    As to Vietnamese, we probably outsourced a lot of our translation needs to our local native-speaker allies. Perhaps imprudently much, but there was no Czech-speaking equivalent of the ARVN.

  42. @JWBrewer That makes good sense. The enrollments went almost to zero once things changed. There’s an interesting drop off after German. Even French is much less.

  43. “Even French is much less.”

    Remember that this focus is determined by strategic requirements, not some general prominence of this or that language. French is important these days only for operating in Francophone Africa and the US does very little of that. That horrible incident in Niger is an example; it was some small Special Ops task force that happened in.

    JWB is right about Czech.

    WRT Vietnamese when that language was needed, most of the training was done in country, not at DLI. As for now, the only requirement would perhaps be for liaison work.

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