New York’s linguistic diversity

New-York.jpegNew York City has always been an incredibly diverse place – people have been attracted to its charms and promise since the 19th Century. Ellis Island saw people from all over the world pass through it, and their descendents now make New York a cultural melting pot.

This interesting article in the New York Times explores the linguistic side of the city, with an estimated 800 languages spoken there. The 2000 Census revealed that residents of Queens were listed as speaking 138 different languages.  It is described as the “capital of language density in the world”.  Many of these languages are dying out in other parts of the world, but continue to be spoken somewhere in New York.

Speakers of Garifuna, which is being displaced in Central America by Spanish and English, are striving to keep it alive in their New York neighborhoods. Regular classes have sprouted at the Yurumein House Cultural Center in the Bronx, and also in Brooklyn, where James Lovell, a public school music teacher, leads a small Garifuna class at the Biko Transformation Center in East Bushwick.

Mr. Lovell, who came to New York from Belize in 1990, said his oldest children, 21-year-old twin boys, do not speak Garifuna. “They can get along speaking Spanish or English, so there’s no need to as far as they’re concerned,” he said, adding that many compatriots feel “they will get nowhere with their Garifuna culture, so they decide to assimilate.”

But as he witnessed his language fading among his friends and his family, Mr. Lovell decided to expose his younger children to their native culture. Mostly through simple bilingual songs that he accompanies with gusto on his guitar, he is teaching his two younger daughters, Jamie, 11, and Jazelle, 7, and their friends.

“Whenever they leave the house or go to school, they’re speaking English,” Mr. Lovell said. “Here, I teach them their history, Garifuna history. I teach them the songs, and through the songs, I explain to them what it’s saying. It’s going to give them a sense of self, to know themselves. The fact that they’re speaking the language is empowerment in itself.” (Source: New York Times)