Graduation Date

Fall 12-14-2018

Grading Professor

Judith Watson

Subject Concentration


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)


- Headline

The Capital of Dying Languages

- Reporter

Masa Oga

- Abstract

While there is no precise count, some experts believe New York is home to as many as 800 languages. New York City is definitely the capital of language density in the world, says Daniel Kaufman, an adjunct professor of linguistics at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York. However, he predicts that half of those 800 languages will be extinct in the near future. “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,” Kaufman said.

Linguists, activists, and community members – concerned that New York City’s linguistic and cultural diversity have undergone a rapid decline – have been trying to save those rare languages.

Hawaiian language is one example. The language was prohibited from speaking for almost four generations of students who had grown up learning English. As a result, today only about 1,000 native Hawaiian speakers and 8,000 others can speak and understand the language fluently, according to the UCLA Language Materials Project. However, in New York City, native Hawaiian language educators have been trying to revitalize it. The effort also helped Hawaiian community members in New York City feel the unity of the community has become strong.

Garifuna language is also an interesting case. Descended from indigenous people in Caribbean region and Central America, Garifuna people in the Bronx still keep their cultural practice. As like people in other communities do, Garufuna parents agree that a small number of ethnic Garifuna continue to have command of the culture, especially language in recent years. However, those older generations’ tireless efforts have induced Garifuna millennials to join traditional cultural events, resulting in the increase in young population who start learning the language.

To take Hawaii and Garifuna cases as examples, this article tells how those people regard their languages and cultures, how to maintain those, and what their identities are.

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