French is an important language of New York City, and it's not the only one. With speakers of approximately 10 percent of the world’s 6000-7000 languages, the New York metropolitan area is the most linguistically diverse urban center in the world, probably in the history of the world. From a thriving Algonquian language in pre-contact times, Lenape today is down to its last native speakers, but there are efforts to revitalize it, despite the sea of surrounding non-Indigenous languages with their own complex histories. Beginning in the colonial period, local languages were overrun by European languages, and by the early 20th century, New York had become a quintessential product of large-scale pan-European immigration.
Now, in the 21st century, New York City is hyperdiverse, with arrivals from areas of deep linguistic diversity across the globe, from the Himalaya to West Africa to the Indigenous zones of Mexico and Central America. Among its residents the city can count speakers of languages found virtually nowhere else, but the pressure to switch to rising world languages — like English, Spanish, Mandarin, Arabic, and Hindi — is intense.
Since 2010, the Endangered Language Alliance, motivated by worldwide language endangerment, has worked with speakers of over 100 distinct endangered and minority languages, including Lenape, an Indigenous language whose traditional territories include what is now New York City.
This mapincludes nearly 700 languages and dialects confirmed to nearly 1200 significant sites, including neighborhoods, community institutions, restaurants, and other locations where there is, or was, at least one speaker. In terms of geographic diversity, approximately 38% of the languages shown are from Asia, 24% from Africa, 19% from Europe, 16% from the Americas, and the rest from Oceania and the Pacific.
This map comes out of the project Mapping Linguistic Diversity in a Globalizing World through Open Source Digital Tools, a new collaborative partnership between the University of British Columbia and the Endangered Language Alliance. Core support comes from the Peter Wall Institute for Advanced Studies Wall Solutions Initiative.
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