Sunday, 6 December 2015

New York: The most linguistically diverse city

New York City, the "melting pot", is a culturally diverse metropolis with a population "defined by a long history of international immigration". Currently, about 36% of its population are foreign-born (via).

New York City is home to the largest Jewish community outside Israel, to the largest African American community of any US-American city, and the largest community of overseas Chinese (with six Chinatowns). Queens - the only large county in the U.S. where the median income among black households has surpassed that of whites - is the most diverse borough (via).

About 800 languages are spoken in New York, the most linguistically rich city in the world (via). Just 51% of New Yorkers speak only English at home. The languages of the other 49% span the globe with a majority of Spanish (and Spanish Creole) speakers (25%). There are also 85.000 Yiddish speakers (via). Over the last 30 years, the number of people speaking a language other than English at home increased by 140% with at least 303 languages. Different languages are part of everyday life: In the underground, information signs warning passengers to avoid electrified rails are written in seven languages.
New York is the city where many languages live but it is also said to be a place where languages will die turning the city into a "graveyard for languages". According to UNESCO estimations, half of the world's 6.500 languages are critically endangered. These languages are not necessarily spoken in remote valleys or highlands, "languages can die on the 26th floor of skyscrapers too". Daniel Kaufman, Juliette Blevins and Bob Holman set up the "Endangered Language Alliance" aiming to promote research on endangered languages in New York City and their conservation.
"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." Daniel Kaufman
The last speakers of this language happened to end up in Queens. Often, as people transition from one mother tongue into another, languages die (via). Some of the vulnerable languages are Aramaic, Chaldic, Mandaic, Bukhari, Irish Gaelic, Kashubian, Rhaeto-Romanic, Romany, Yiddish, and indigenous Mexican languages. There are, for instance, several hundred native speakers of Istro-Romanian, classified as severely endangered by UNESCO, living in Queens who probably outnumber those in Istria (via).

“It is the capital of language density in the world. We’re sitting in an endangerment hot spot where we are surrounded by languages that are not going to be around even in 20 or 30 years.”
Daniel Kaufman

“Do I worry that our culture is getting lost? As I get older, I’m thinking more about stuff like that. Most of the older people die away and the language dies with them.” (via)

"The idea was to deal with personalities and types. With the recognition of the passersby that they have been recognized. The face is a map of the person, to paraphrase Oscar Wilde, 'Only fools look beneath the surface. It’s all there to be read.'" Charles H. Traub
Charles H. Traub worked on his street photography collection "Lunch Time" from 1977 to 1980. He took about 400 photographs of "ordinary" people in New York City, Chicago, Florida and some European cities. In fact, when Jackie Kennedy Onassies stopped and asked him to be photographed he turned her down since he was not interested in celebrities (via).

photographs by Charles H. Traub via and via and via and via and via and via and via and via and via and via and via and via and via and via and via and via