The endangered languages of New York City

The New York Times covers a fantastic project that is attempting to track down some of the world’s most endangered languages – by scouring the streets of the Big Apple.

The Endangered Language Alliance is a project that aims to connect speakers of rare tongues but also to use the opportunity to study the languages academically potentially before they disappear.

The article notes that New York City is the most linguistically diverse place on the planet and there are often more speakers of endangered tongues there than in their place of origin:

The chances of overhearing a conversation in Vlashki, a variant of Istro-Romanian, are greater in Queens than in the remote mountain villages in Croatia that immigrants now living in New York left years ago.

At a Roman Catholic Church in the Morrisania section of the Bronx, Mass is said once a month in Garifuna, an Arawakan language that originated with descendants of African slaves shipwrecked near St. Vincent in the Caribbean and later exiled to Central America. Today, Garifuna is virtually as common in the Bronx and in Brooklyn as in Honduras and Belize.

And Rego Park, Queens, is home to Husni Husain, who, as far he knows, is the only person in New York who speaks Mamuju, the Austronesian language he learned growing up in the Indonesian province of West Sulawesi. Mr. Husain, 67, has nobody to talk to, not even his wife or children.

There’s also some good context for the piece at a post on the ever-excellent Language Log and don’t forget to watch the accompanying video

Link to NYT piece on lost languages in New York.

One Comment

  1. Eduardo Rohde
    Posted April 30, 2010 at 8:00 pm | Permalink

    If Mr. Husain’s the only person who speaks Mamuju, how can we know he’s not faking it? Recommended reading: Barreto, Lima “The Man Who Knew Javanese”:

    http://books.google.it/books?id=wSzt5jmcLz8C&pg=PA144&lpg=PA144&dq=lima+barreto+the+man+who+knew&source=bl&ots=RRlhKXKWDg&sig=wItQFUktU2L2iTxt5RdFf66TJPU&hl=it&ei=6CXbS5bWCJWX_Qa5zLXODw&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=1&ved=0CAYQ6AEwAA#v=onepage&q=lima%20barreto%20the%20man%20who%20knew&f=false


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