Randy McDonald (rfmcdpei) wrote,
Randy McDonald

[URBAN NOTE] "New York, a graveyard for languages"

The BBC has an interesting article by Mark Turin describing how the cosmopolis of New York City is a refuge for many dying languages, thanks to its status as a destination for migrants from around the world.

(Gottscheerish, the German dialect spoken in the former language island of Gottschee in southern Slovenia; the background to that is described in Michael Manske's 2004 post at The Glory of Carniola.)

Home to around 800 different languages, New York is a delight for linguists, but also provides a rich hunting ground for those trying to document languages threatened with extinction.

[. . .] New York is not just a city where many languages live, it is also a place where languages go to die, the final destination for the last speakers of some of the planet's most critically endangered speech forms.

[. . .]

A recent Census Bureau report notes that in the United States, the number of people speaking a language other than English at home increased by 140% over the last 30 years, with at least 303 languages recorded in this category.

Originally home to the indigenous Lenape people, then settled by the Dutch, conquered by the English and populated by waves of migrants from every country ever since, the five boroughs that make up the Big Apple - The Bronx, Brooklyn, Manhattan, Queens, and Staten Island - are home to every major world language, but also countless vanishing voices, many of which have just a few remaining speakers.

No longer do aspiring field linguists have to trek halfway across the world to collect data on Zaghawa or Livonian, they can just take the Number 7 train a few stops where they will find speakers of some of the 800 languages that experts believe are spoken in New York.

[. . .]

Recognising what a unique opportunity New York provided, two linguists and a performance poet - Daniel Kaufman, Juliette Blevins and Bob Holman - set up the Endangered Language Alliance, an urban initiative for endangered language research and conservation.

"This is the city with the highest linguistic density in the world and that is mostly because the city draws large numbers of immigrants in almost equal parts from all over the globe - that is unique to New York," says Kaufman.

Several languages have been uttered for the very last time in New York, he says.

"There are these communities that are completely gone in their homeland. One of them, the Gottscheers, is a community of Germanic people who were living in Slovenia, and they were isolated from the rest of the Germanic populations.

"They were surrounded by Slavic speakers for several hundreds of years so they really have their own variety [of language] which is now unintelligible to other German speakers."

The last speakers of this language have ended up in Queens, he says, and this has happened to many other communities.
Tags: diasporas, ethnic conflict, former yugoslavia, german language, language conflict, migration, new york city, slovenia, urban note
  • Post a new comment


    default userpic

    Your reply will be screened

    Your IP address will be recorded 

    When you submit the form an invisible reCAPTCHA check will be performed.
    You must follow the Privacy Policy and Google Terms of use.