Endangered Language Alliance


events and education on linguistic diversity in NYC and beyond

ELA does a wide range of outreach events with speakers of endangered languages and with the general public.

ELA volunteers have spent time getting to know the indigenous Mexican population in Corona, Queens, or communities from the former Soviet Union in Brighton Beach, Brooklyn. This can be easy as posting flyers and talking to people we meet in the street. In other cases, we reach individuals through community radio, print media and through attending public festivals, such as those for Cinco de Mayo, among others. Our outreach goal is to contact as many speakers of threatened and endangered languages in New York City as possible in order to collaborate with them on projects that can document and support their languages for future generations. At the same time, our volunteers gain an appreciation for these communities, their linguistic heritage, and what is involved in language documentation. In many cases, ELA volunteers have used this experience to gain a footing in the field of linguistics and continue their studies on the undergraduate and graduate levels.

Slowly but surely, we are getting the word out to New Yorkers from all over the globe that there exists an organization dedicated to working with them to support their threatened languages.

We also strive to educate the public about the value of linguistic diversity and the intertwined problems of language death and environmental destruction. We take every opportunity to introduce the public to the various peoples from around the world who maintain their endangered languages and cultures here in NYC. We do this through public events at museums, lectures in middle schools, high schools and universities, as well as other regular events.

Our outreach and education activities include:

  • Transnational Voices, an event bringing together indigenous-language radio producers to exchange experience, knowledge, and strategies.
  • ELA co-founder Daniel Kaufman spoke at the 2015 Jane Jacobs Forum, and at the 2015 Polyglot Conference about “Documenting Global Languages Locally.”

Mother Tongues is a photography series created by Yuri Marder in collaboration with ELA and with support from the National Endowment of the Arts. Hosted on the Google Cultural Institute, the exhibit features photographs of endangered language speakers in New York, along with recordings and information about their languages.

Visit the full exhibit here.


Mariam Ghani Mural

ELA’s work has been the basis of the two first-ever exhibits devoted to the languages of New York City, first at City Lore Gallery from January through April 2015, then at the Queens Museum from April to July 2016. An estimated 70,000 people saw the two exhibits.


At the heart of both exhibits were ten large, high-quality photographs by Yuri Marder (see above), featuring ELA’s local collaborators in New York City, each one of whom speaks a different endangered language. Accompanying several portraits were sound recordings and short written texts.

At the Queens Museum, the main hall featured The Garden of Forked Tongues (top of the page), 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. Alongside the exhibit, ELA also hosted a day-long open recording session at the museum on May 29, 2016, recording 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. A June 11 ELA roundtable at the museum, “Languages Lost and Found: A Roundtable” featured writers, translators, linguists and practitioners discussing language endangerment, revitalization and multilingualism in both a local (New York) and global context.

At City Lore,“Mother Tongues: Endangered Languages in New York and Beyond”, sponsored by the National Endowment for the Arts, also included a map highlighting New York’s connection to linguistic diversity across the globe, a children’s book section, information on New York City English, and an area where visitors could record their own language. Many visitors contributed to the show by adding a line to the “People’s Khonsay”, an evolving poem in 50 different languages, in their own mother tongue.

“Mother Tongues” was also featured on Channel 7 and Channel 4 News in New York City, as well as on NPR. ELA also organized seven public programs in the gallery space, almost all of them filled to capacity:

  • Jan. 29, 2015 – Opening Reception: The exhibition was presented by the curators and artists to an over-capacity crowd.
  • Feb. 12, 2015 – Screening of “If These Knishes Could Talk”, a film on the New York accent, presented by director Heather Quinlan and followed by an “Accent Slam”.
  • Feb. 18, 2015 – Screening of “Language Matters with Bob Holman”, a PBS film on endangered languages, followed by discussion with poet Bob Holman and ELA director Daniel Kaufman.
  • Feb. 26, 2015 – More than Maize & Molé: Nahuatl Language Through Food. Nahuatl teacher and chef Irwin Sanchez demonstrated the preparation of pre-Hispanic Mexican food together with a lesson in Nahuatl food terms.
  • Mar. 12, 2015 – Documenting Traditional Garifuna Song in NYC and Belize: A concert with the Garifuna group Libaña Marasa, recorded as part of a larger project to document traditional Garifuna music in NYC and Honduras. Part of the event can be seen on ELA’s Youtube channel.
  • Mar. 18, 2015 – Mameloshen: Sharing Songs & Memories of Yiddish-Speaking NYC:
    A concert of Yiddish folksongs led by Ethel Raim of the Center for Traditional Music and Dance. Followed with a talk by Ross Perlin on the role of Yiddish in NYC.
  • Mar. 28, 2015 – Languages of the Caucasus – Songs from the Lazuri language of Eastern Turkey.
  • Apr. 22, 2015 – The People’s Khonsay: The exhibit closed with a reading by Bob Holman and Daniel Kaufman of the “People’s Khonsay”, a collection of favorite expressions and untranslatable words contributed by visitors in their mother tongue over the course of the 3 month exhibit.


Mother Tongues 4Mother Tongues 5

Mother Tongues 2Mother Tongues 3

Language Matters with Bob Holman, produced in conjunction with ELA, is a documentary in three acts, describing the struggles and triumphs of language activists in Australia, Wales, and Hawaii who are developing and revitalizing their languages and cultures. Directed by David Grubin and with major funding provided by the National Endowment for the Humanities, the film aired nationwide on PBS in January 2015, to critical acclaim. The whole film is now free to watch online:

Language Matters makes clear everything that is lost when a language disappears: a wealth of ecological, zoological, and botanical knowledge; a world of cultural creativity; and a lens on life, a unique and irreplaceable outlook on the world. Facing a catastrophic loss of cultural and linguistic diversity, people from all over the world are responding with unprecedented efforts to document, develop, and revitalize endangered languages.

In the film, Bob, a poet who is also an ELA board member, flies to the Australia and meets Charlie Mangulda, the last speaker of Amurdak, and the Aboriginal song man Solomon Nangamu, who is single-handedly keeping Manangkardi alive through his “song line.” In Wales, he meets poets, singer-songwriters, and even a rapper bringing Welsh rap to the pub — and Bob himself makes a go of competing (in Welsh) in the National Eisteddfod, a massive celebration of the language and its verbal art. Finally, in Hawaii, Bob observes at close hand one of the most successful revitalization movements, which is bringing the Hawaiian language back from extinction thanks to sheer determination and inspired education initiatives for young people (from birth through college).

To read more about the film, the participants, and the languages, visit http://www.languagemattersfilm.com

Language Matters

Radio Alcal 3 Radio Alcal

Alcal Latin Radio, with its unique program of Spanish- and indigenous-language programming, broadcasts live online from ELA’s recording studio in New York City. Featuring music, commentary, and interviews with indigenous activists, artists, and community members in the New York area. Listen below for a sample:

Zenaida Cantú on Tlapanec

Salazar on Nahuatl

Maximiliano Bassano on Mixtec


Radio Alcal is currently running three shows every other week, New York time. You can listen to live broadcasts at alcallatinradio.yolasite.com.

Monday 6:30-7:30 pm: Talakgastakgni (The Awakening) / José Juarez (Totonac and Spanish)

Cultural program all about Latin America


Thursday 8-9 pm: Voces Sin Fronteras (Voices Without Frontiers) / Leobardo Ajtzalam (K’iche’ and Spanish)

Program on human rights in New York and Latin America, and the culturals and languages of Meso-America

Saturday 3 pm-5 pm: Umalali Garifuna (The Voice of the Garifuna) / Luis Baltazar, Julio Arzu, Carlos Gotay (Garifuna and Spanish)

All things Garifuna around the world, language and culture, human rights and community events, reincarnation of the original show started in 1991 by Felix Miranda, broadcast from Medgar Evers College in Brooklyn on WLIB

ELA in the Classroom

ELA researchers frequently visit schools and colleges to give presentations on cultural and linguistic diversity, mulitilingualism, linguistics, specific languages, and ELA’s work in New York City, among other topics. We have presented at middle schools, high schools, and a wide range of colleges and universities from Sarah Lawrence to Yale to the University of London. ELA linguists, many of whom also have permanent faculty positions, have also taught full-length courses at Columbia, NYU, CUNY, Rutgers, and many other schools.

Nowhere is New York’s linguistic diversity better represented than in our public school system. According to one estimate, New York City’s public school students speak over 185 languages at home and a wide range of dual-language programs are flourishing across the city.

ELA has long been hosting and visiting local high school and colleges — over the past year, we’ve particularly proud to help shape a unique new class, “Multilingual NYC” at the iSchool, an NYC public school in SoHo. Working with 25 high school students and their teacher Katy Barber, we formed the (very multilingual) students into neighborhood survey teams. From the Bengali Bronx to Mixtec and Yemeni Arabic in Harlem, the students created fantastic maps and conducted interviews. This term we’re back in the classroom, surveying different neighborhoods — and we look forward to doing more!

If your school might be interested, please get in touch!