Endangered Language Alliance


News & Events

the latest on endangered language work at ELA

The Impact of COVID-19 on New York City’s Multilingual Immigrant Communities

Since late March, New York City has been the global epicenter of the COVID-19/coronavirus pandemic, with more than 170,000 confirmed cases and over 18,000 confirmed deaths as of early May. Nearly every New Yorker has been affected, but the effects have not been evenly distributed. While there is emerging evidence in city data of serious disparities by race,  by race, it is also becoming clear, as this map indicates, that multilingual immigrant communities have been among the hardest hit.

This map combines the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases per 1,000 people by ZIP Code (as of May 5) from the NYC Department of Health with the Endangered Language Alliance’s recently released NYC Language Map, which emphasizes linguistic diversity by representing over 600 languages at approximately 1000 significant sites across the city, based on years of collaboration and data-gathering with the city’s language communities. The total number of COVID-19 tests administered per capita by ZIP Code, using the same city dataset, was also mapped for reference.

Despite significant nuances and challenges — such as how to represent languages (especially the more widely-spoken) at individual locations, major variation in population per ZIP Code, different levels of testing for COVID-19 — some overall patterns are clear:

  • The Central Queens neighborhoods of Corona, Elmhurst, and Jackson Heights, where hundreds of minority and Indigenous languages are spoken from across Latin America and Asia, has become the “epicenter of the epicenter”, with approximately 11,000 cases and hundreds of fatalities.
  • Major immigrant neighborhoods that are home to speakers of smaller languages from across Latin America, the Caribbean, and West Africa are bearing the brunt of the outbreak in Harlem, the Bronx, Southeast Queens, and Staten Island, with high mortality rates.
  • The most linguistically diverse stretch of neighborhoods in Brooklyn, from Borough Park to Canarsie and including major Jewish, Caribbean, and post-Soviet diaspora communities, has the highest number of cases in the borough.

These patterns are confirmed in stories from the communities themselves. Immigrant workers on the frontlines, such as essential care workers, food workers, and transit workers are at greater risk. Disparities around housing, income, health, and immigration status also play a role. A lack of timely, widely disseminated information in community languages, despite efforts, is another critical factor. Language is just one important indicator — note, for example, the affluent multilingual cluster around Manhattan’s United Nations with relatively fewer cases.

New York City’s multilingual immigrant communities are organizing, from mutual aid among Brooklyn’s Mayan community to a Queens-based Nepali network. The COVID-19 Immigrant Emergency Relief Program announced on April 16 is another important step, but more is needed.

These map were produced by the Mapping Linguistic Diversity partnership, bringing together the Endangered Language Alliance and researchers at the University of British Columbia, with support from the Peter Wall Institute for Advanced Studies. Media contact: info@elalliance.org

Click here to download the map in PDF format.

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Language Support at a Time of Crisis

In a new ELA video, Ismael explains in Mixtec how to avoid coronavrius, translating from the materials of the NYC Departament of Health. For more information, visit http://nyc.gov/coronavirus.

With over 4,000 COVID-19 cases reported in NYC, over 10,000 across the country, and over 200,000 around the world, we are not just in a public health crisis but in a growing economic crisis and communications crisis.

ELA is responding — remotely, since our office is closed to keep everyone safe — by doing more of what we’ve already been doing over the past few years: connecting language to issues of health and justice, and making sure the mulitlingual individuals and communities we work with are heard and get access to critical resources. We are especially focused on creating essential public service announcements in Indigenous and minority languages (like Ismael’s in Mixtec) that are spoken by tens of thousands of New Yorkers, including the most vulnerable, but for which there is no other available information.

We’ve been doing this — with few resources, but with a big push from speakers — in a wide range of languages on a wide range of subjects, including the Census“Know Your Rights”NYC’s municipal ID program IDNYC, the rights of children in detention, and most recently COVID-19. Please help us spread the word and find resources — and let us know if communities or programs where this is needed!

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Upcoming Events

ELA is suspending all upcoming events, including language classes, for the time being. Please keep an eye on our website, on our Facebook page, and on future newsletters for any updates. We hope everyone stays safe.

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The 2020 Census — in Every Language!

Ismael explica la importancia del censo 2020. Ismael explains the importance of the 2020 Census. In Mixtec (Cuautipan) with guide in English and Spanish. En mixteco (Cuautipan) con guía en inglés y español.

It’s not just the election this year — the 2020 Census is a big deal.

Census response rates in cities and particularly in minority, immigrant, and mulitlingual communities are chronically low due to fear, poor outreach, language access, and a range of other factors. As a result, the communities are rendered politically invisible and lose resources.

ELA is working as part of a citywide effort (and related efforts are going on all over the country) to ensure that this year everyone is counted. For us, it grew out of the realization that the census registers fewer than 200 languages for NYC (even fewer in other cities), while ELA has mapped over 650. Much more has to be done to reach most of the communities we’re part of and work with, and the census is a once-in-a-decade opportunity.

As the census hits nationwide in the next few weeks, ELA is doing two main things to “get out the count”:

One: We’re sharing our research (particularly our language map), our experience, and our contacts far and wide so that agencies and organizations learn about and can reach communities.

Two: We’re doing outreach ourselves and trying to close the language gap, making video and audio recordings about the census in languages that no one else is covering, particularly Indigenous Latin American languages that have tens of thousands of speakers in NYC alone. We’re even getting out into the streets to counter the atmosphere of fear and uncertainty around the census and to talk about how important it is.

Please join us! Anyone who livs in the U.S. can take our Census Pledge— which means that you commit to filling out the census when it arrives in the next few weeks. You can also help us spread the word: both the pledge and messages like Ismael’s.

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ELA @ Governors Island

From May until September, ELA will have a residency in a historic house on Governors Island, an emerging seasonal hub for arts and non-profit activities in the middle of New York Harbor. Hundreds of thousands of people visit Governors Island every summer, and we hope you’ll stop by and see us. We’ll be open every Saturday and Sunday celebrating ELA’s 10th anniversary and hosting different events showcasing the city’s lesser known languages and cultures, with a focus on forging a new kind of public linguistics. We hope you’ll come see us, and let us know if there’s a program you’d like to see or even host! Watch this space…

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IMLD in NYC 2020

Garifuna speaker and teacher Milton Guity explains the IDNYC program in Garifuna

In honor of International Mother Language Day, an opportunity to celebrate all of the world’s approximately 7,000 languages, we’re proud to announce the release of a first-ever set of official videos in Indigenous and minority languages for The City of New York!

ELA has been working with the Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs and other city agencies on a unique project — recording official city messages (inside City Hall!) in at least 15 languages that, for the most part, have never been used in official city materials or been given this kind of acknowledgment. It also means that hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers will be able to get important information in their mother tongues, in this case about IDNYC, the municipal ID program that serves over 1.5 million New Yorkers, a large number of them immigrants.

The 15 languages that will be represented are from all over the world — from Indigenous Latin American languages like Mixtec and Kichwa to stateless languages like Yiddish, Fulani, and Tibetan.

Since 1999, the United Nations has designated February 21 as International Mother Language Day in memory of the 1952 Bengali Language Movement. Please RSVP for this unique, free event bringing together communities, city officials, and New Yorkers from all walks of life.

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ELA’s Language Map in the News

Since its release in December, ELA’s “Languages of New York” map has been featured in a range of publications, including Gothamist, Time Out, The Daily Sun (New York’s daily Japanese newspaper), with re-tweets by the New York City’s Mayor Office and leading New York City politicians.

Then a few weeks ago, The New York Times featured the work of our friend and collaborator Rasmina Gurung, together with ELA, to bolster her native language Seke — which has just 700 speakers worldwide, over 100 of whom live in NYC.

Above all, we’ve been thrilled by the fact that hundreds of people around the world have donated to ELA to receive the map and support linguistic diversity. So many of you have written to us about your languages, your communities, and your work — we’re sorry if we’ve been slow in responding, but please keep it all coming!

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2019 – A Year of Languages

ELA’s network — linguists, community leaders, language activists, speakers, students, and ordinary New Yorkers — has been working all year to bring resources and attention to the languages and cultures that need them. Here are just a few of the highlights:

In January, we continued our tradition of hosting language classes in less commonly taught languages, with Lenape and Quechua classes going all year long. In February, we celebrated International Mother Language Day with our Lower East Side Language Marathon, which featured poems, songs, jokes, and proverbs in over a dozen languages from Pakistan, Mexico, Indonesia, and elsewhere, all now spoken in NYC. March and April saw regular releases of subtitled recordings in the Pamiri languages of Tajikistan from our 2018 fieldwork. May was the culmination of our Songs and Singers of the Himalayan Diaspora project, with a major concert held at the Sherpa temple in Jackson Heights. In June we submitted the final report for our collaboration with the New York City Department of Health looking at the linguistic, cultural and health background of indigenous Latin American communities in New York.

In July we presented at NYC’s Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs, and in August we headed to Nepal for fieldwork on Seke, a language spoken by fewer than 700 primarily in five villages of Nepal (and in Brooklyn!). In September, we partnered with the radio station WNYC on Micropolis, a unique live language event, and October saw us dive into our new collaborative partnership on mapping languages in cities, thanks to a Wall Solutions grant. In November we finished recording for our Ladino New York project, set to launch next year, and in December we formally launched the Languages of New York City map after several years’ work, drawing wide coverage.

To learn more about our other new initiatives, from our in-progress archive to our partnerships with speakers of dozens of languages and our talks and events across the country — visit our website or our Youtube channel, featuring hundreds of languages and stories you will hear nowhere else.

We hope to see you in 2020, our 10th anniversary year. Big things are in the works: an unprecendented outreach effort for the U.S. Census, a workshop for indigenous language interpreters, a digital version of the NYC language map, and more. Please contribute to help us make it all happen!

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On #GivingTuesday, Support Languages and Get a Map

On December 3, #GivingTuesday, Facebook may match any donations we get on their platform. Those donations go right into our work documenting and support endangered languages in New York and around the world — and doubling them really matters. Please donate and spread the word. To say thanks, we’re sending donors our beautiful new language maps.

The incredible diversity of Central Queens — on ELA’s new language map.

Anyone who gives at least $40 will get a brand-new, full-scale (24 x 36), all-color language map of New York City, featuring over 600 languages – a #GivingTuesday special.

If you donate $50, we’ll also send you our (13″ x 16″) language map of Queens, featuring over 150 languages. 

If you donate $60, we’ll send you the NYC map plus an ELA t-shirt showing I ❤ NY in all the possible sentence orders in the languages of the world.

*Please add $20 for shipping outside the US*

Please send your mailing address to info@elalliance.org to receive your map!

If you are not on Facebook, you can recognize ELA on #GivingTuesday (or any day) by donating here. All donations to ELA are tax-deductible.

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Connecting Language and Health

ELA Co-Directors Ross Perlin and Daniel Kaufman spoke last week on “Language Access, Health, and Indigenous Communities in New York City” at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancel Center’s Immigrant Health and Cancer Disparities Service. It was a unique opportunity to bridge the gap between linguist work and public health, specifically addressing NYC’s substantial and growing Indigenous Latin American communities who often remain dispersed, invisible, and without access to services, including translation and interpretation. We discussed linguistic, cultural, and health challenges and opportunities in working with this new and relatively little-known community, based on research in collaboration with the NYC Department of Health.

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