Election day eve

As a registered non-profit organization, ELA cannot endorse political candidates, nor did we want to add to the ceaseless chatter during what felt like an eternal campaign here in the US. But there have been some points that we cannot in good conscience ignore without comment. In particular, one campaign has ruthlessly targeted Mexican immigrants as the root of this country’s economic problems. It would be cowardly, even at this late juncture, for us not to publicly defend our many indigenous Mexican collaborators who are among the first peoples of this continent and who have suffered untold horrors at the hands of a wide variety of malefactors, from the conquistadors to a neighbor who portrays them as the worst kinds of criminals while they merely struggle to survive.

It is no exaggeration that the multi-billion dollar service economy of New York City stays afloat largely on the back of indigenous Mexican labor under some of the worst working conditions in the US.

It is important to consider how and why our indigenous friends from Mexico and Guatemala ended up working in these conditions so far away from home.

After thousands of years of thriving agriculture, farming in Mexico has ceased to provide a viable livelihood. Climate change, overuse of fertilizers and pesticides, trade treaties such as NAFTA, the imposition of GMOs, and now gun violence from drug wars, have all conspired to make life unlivable. Sadly, every one of these destabilizing factors has been largely, if not completely, introduced from the North.

Mahmoud Darwish’s ‘On man’, could have just as well been written for those who have been savaged by one man’s campaign this election season:

They gagged his mouth,
Bound his hands to the rock of the dead
And said: Murderer!
They took his food, clothes and banners,
Cast him into the condemned cell
And said: Thief!
They drove him away from every port,
Took his young sweetheart,
Then said: Refugee!

As the Sioux and their allies are fighting to put an end to the theft of their land at Standing Rock at this very moment, it is important that we think about the displacement of indigenous people in its widest context this election day. This should include condemning the demonization of indigenous immigrants.

Our friend and collaborator, Zenaida Cantu, Me’phaa poet, sums it up best:

Ri mbrutu ika mbo ahun
gwa’da tsitsiya magajnu gini

Discrimination is the only weapon the mediocre can use to excel!

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A New Language Map of Queens!

We’re thrilled to share “Mother Tongues and Queens” — a language map of the world’s languages capital!


The map shows NYC’s linguistic diversity in more detail than ever before, reflecting ELA’s work over the last 6 years.

The map is featured in the fabulous, just-released “Nonstop Metropolis: A New York City Atlas” edited by Rebecca Solnit and Joshua Jelly-Schapiro, and was part of an exhibit at the Queens Museum. Thanks to Molly Roy for the cartography and Mirissa Neff for the photographs!

We’re currently planning maps of the other boroughs — get in touch if you want to help out!

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Breton-Garifuna Musical Magic


Through the initiative of Breizh Amerika founder, Charles Kergaravat, a unique musical collaboration between Breton and Garifuna musicians entitled the Breizh Amerika Collective has put forth a striking new album “Asambles. Uwarani. Together”. Trust us, you’ve never heard anything like it.

Help support endangered musical cultures in New York and around the world. Donate $25 or more to ELA (tax-deductible) and mention ‘CD’ in the comments to get a free copy

Listen to a preview of “Asambles. Uwarani. Together” here:

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Voices of the Himalayas

Over the last several months, led by project coordinator Nawang Tsering Gurung — originally from Mustang, Nepal and now living in Queens — ELA has launched Voices of the Himalayas, a new project exploring the lived experiences of migration and social change among Himalayan New Yorkers. The aim is to document the languages, cultures, social histories, folklore, and community life of indigenous people in collaboration with community members and scholars of the Himalayan region. This is one of New York’s newest and fastest-growing immigrant and refugee communities, where a wide variety of little-documented and endangered languages are spoken.

Check out our first three videos, featuring the life stories of three women who have made the journey from the Himalayas to New York:

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The World in Words: From Ainu to Zaza

On Tuesday June 21 at 6:30 pm, come listen in on a live podcast taping, featuring ELA and The World in Words at the New York Public Library, one of the world’s great research institutions, with materials on over 430 languages.

The hosts of The World in Words, Patrick Cox and Nina Porzucki, will explore what’s happening to endangered languages from Ainu to Zaza. Why do languages become endangered, and how have some speakers worked to ensure a future for their native tongues?

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Endangered Languages at the Queens Museum

ELA is collaborating with the Queens Museum, at the center of one of the most linguistically diverse places on earth, on two exhibits and a series of public events. This Saturday June 11, from 2 to 4 pm, “Languages Lost and Found: A Roundtable” will feature writers, translators, linguists and practitioners discussing language endangerment, revitalization and multilingualism in both a local (New York) and global context.

While you’re there, check out The Garden of Forked Tongues, a giant mural created by artist Mariam Ghani based on ELA data, in which each of the 59 polygons on the wall represents an endangered language spoken in Queens. Just a gallery over is Mother Tongues, a series of portraits of endangered language speakers by Yuri Marder.

On May 29, ELA hosted its day-long open recording session at the museum, recoriding interviews in Hokkien, Cantonese, Kichwa, Tibetan, Nepali, Mustangi, Tamang, Tashelhiyt, and Southern Zaza, not to mention Spanish and English (about language issues). We talked to devout Buddhists, political refugees, visitors from Malaysia, and a career translator for the NY state supreme court, among others.

Queens Language Mural


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Hawaiian and Quechua Classes at ELA!

A new introductory Hawaiian class, starting this Thursday night, June 9 and continuing every Thursday night in June from 6:30 pm to 8:30 pm!

ʻO ke alelo ka hoeuli. The tongue is the steering paddle of the words uttered by the mouth. In celebration of Hōkūleʻa’s World Wide Voyage named “Mālama Honua,” Ka Leo Nūioka and launching its new introductory Hawaiian language course, taught by Kainoa Embernate — and ELA is proud to be hosting it.

Hawaiian, the indigenous language of Hawaiʻi, is linked historically to languages across the Pacific and the Indian Ocean, from Madagascar to Easter Island. The language is actively being revived by thousands of speakers.

Learn more and sign up HERE.

ELA frequently helps organize and host inexpensive classes in languages that are rarely, if ever, taught. All classes are taught by native speakers now living in New York and are aimed at beginners. Students typically include both members of the community seeking to revitalize the language and others who are simply interested in learning a fascinating language.

We are also currently hosting Peruvian Quechua classes on Thursday evenings, continuing through June — more info here. Past classes have featured Breton, a Celtic language of northwest France; K’iche’, a Mayan language of Guatemala, led by Leobardo Ajtzalam; Kichwa (Ecuadorian Quechua), led by Atik Paway; and Nahuatl, an Uto-Aztecan language of Mexico.

Quechua class

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“Unheard Of!” Returns With New Songs from Indigenous Taiwan

In this 8th installment of the Unheard Of! series, ELA continues to promote poetry, song and story-telling in endangered languages from around the world. Tsou, an indigenous language of Taiwan, has less than 2,000 living speakers but is well-known for its ceremonial choral songs. Baitz (Paicu) Niahosa is one of the few Tsou singers writing new music in the language. Applying her classical training to ancient vocal traditions, she creates a totally new kind of Tsou music in the Bel Canto style.

Advance tickets (only $10) are here — some tickets will also be available at the door for $15.

Unheard Of! is an ongoing series presented by ELA highlighting the linguistic and cultural diversity of New York City.



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Volunteer at ELA This Summer!

Join us this summer at our office in the heart of NYC. The short online application is due on February 26 at 5 pm EST. Apply and help us spread the word!

What’s it like to volunteer at ELA?

We’re small, friendly, flexible, and driven. We match people with projects based on their skills, interests, and languages.

Everything we do is tied to our mission to document and support endangered languages, and you’ll learn a lot about languages while you’re here. There’s also all the vital day-to-day work of running a non-profit: fundraising, marketing, event planning, and more.

We have a limited number of volunteer positions over the summer, but you can get involved year-round too. Email perlin@elalliance.org with any questions.

ELA Technology

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2015 at ELA

In January, we opened “Mother Tongues” at the City Lore gallery, the first-ever exhibit dedicated to the languages of New York City. In the same month, PBS premiered the documentary Language Matters with Bob Holman, produced in conjunction with ELA and screened nationwide to critical acclaim. Throughout February and March, ELA presented events featuring Garifuna arumahani, a traditional, now endangered song genre; Yiddish folk music; and the languages of the Caucasus. April marked the beginning of our three-year project, funded by the National Science Foundation, to build Kratylos, a new tool which aims to revolutionize language research. May brought an amazing Breton-Garifuna musical collaboration and our All You Can Speak Language Buffet at Ideas City, and in June we started classes in K’iche’, an indigenous language of Guatemala.

In July and August, we continued our documentary work on Ikota and Gurung; in September and October, our Mixtec literacy workshops continued in collaboration with the East Harlem Neighborhood Network; in November, our Jewish Languages of Brooklyn fieldtrip, our first language and culture tour, drew a big crowd. In December, we started making plans for a public, digital archive devoted to the endangered languages and cultures of New York. Two things we’re particularly excited about are Kichwa (Ecuadorean Quechua) classes set to begin next week in our office, and programming we’re planning with the Queens Museum for May 2016. Stay tuned!

To learn more about everything ELA is working on, dig deeper into our website, which we’re constantly updating, and visit our Youtube channel, with over 200 videos of languages you will hear nowhere else. Keep up with us on Facebook!

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