Endangered Language Alliance


News & Events

the latest on endangered language work at ELA

Introducing Ladino New York

Varieties of what became Judeo-Spanish (now widely known as Ladino) were once spoken by Sephardim, the Jews of Spain — approximately 100,000-175,000 of whom were expelled from Spain in 1492. While some went to Portugal and others to Morocco, the vast majority went to the Ottoman Empire, maintaining and developing their distinctive language for over 500 years.

By the early 20th century, with the arrival of tens of thousands of speakers from cities such as Salonica, Istanbul, and Izmir, New York had become one of the language’s global centers. Other Ladino-speaking communities developed elsewhere in the US, including Seattle and Los Angeles, though younger generations switched to English.

Endangered everywhere today, Ladino nonetheless has a substantial legacy and a vital presence in New York. It was the language of neighborhoods from Lower East Side to the Bronx to the New Lots area of Brooklyn, playing a significant role in daily life and at times in the numerous Sephardic synagogues in those areas. The city has also been home to large-scale Ladino-language journalism (most famously, La Vara), a theater troupe (The Ladino Players), and Ladino classes. Today, annual events like the Celebration of Judeo-Spanish in New York and the International Ladino Day are bringing together speakers, students, and a growing number of Sephardim and non-Sephardim interested in the language.

In 12 episodes/interviews totaling around 4 hours, ELA’s Ladino New York project, part of a larger Jewish Languages inititive, tells the stories of those speak the language or remember the language and its major role in the history and future of Jewish New York.

A full list of all the episodes is here on YouTube — enjoy and spread the word!

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A New Residency on Governors Island

For the next few months, the Endangered Language Alliance will be hosting a small residency program on Governors Island, the exciting new arts and culture hub in the middle of New York Harbor, giving space to linguists, language activists, and other creators doing related work at a challenging time. Residents will work on ongoing projects documenting and support linguistic diversity in the city, surrounded by the “Mother Tongues” portraits of endangered language speakers by photographer Yuri Marder, previously exhibited at the Queens Museum and the City Lore Gallery. We hope to be back in the future with public events when it’s safe!

If you’re in need of a unique but barebones space for language-related work or simply want to learn more, drop us a line!

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Virtual Events

ELA is still working remotely and has suspended all in-person events, including language classes, for the time being — but see below for past and upcoming events.

July 12: ELA researcher Nawang Gurung at the Columbia’s Weatherhead Institute on “Tibetan and Himalayan Communities in a Covid-19 World

July 17: ELA collaborator Sienna Craig spoke at the “2020 International Tibetan Medicine Conference on COVID-19 in China”, broadcasting to 4500 Tibetan viewers

July 26, 6 pm: Listen live to “Language at a Distance”, a new ELA piece produced with Nicole Galpern and Natalie Galpern on whistling languages, drum languages, and all the many ways people have communicated when they’re not together, on Montez Press Radio

July 30, 7 pm: ELA w/the Queens Council on the Arts celebrating a new artwork about the multilingualism of Queens

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Reopening — to a New Reality

Today officially marks NYC’s reopening, but the extraordinary events of the past few weeks, driven by mourning and anger and hope in the wake of George Floyd’s killing, have already brought the city back to life. At ELA, we are continuing to do what we can to record and reverberate the voices of speakers and communities struggling for justice. We are still working from home, with all events suspended, but hope to begin a gradual, safe reopening soon.

As many from the heart of the Black Lives Matter movement have been emphasizing, standing up and being counted in the 2020 Census, as soon as possible, is critical. In new ELA videos, Milton (from NYC’s Garifuna community) and Segundo (from NYC’s Kichwa community) explain why filling out the census is the one of the simplest but also most important things people can do for their communities. 

We are still working from home, with all events suspended, but hope to begin a gradual, safe reopening soon. Please keep an eye on our website, on our Facebook page, and future newsletters for any updates. Stay safe!

ELA has been working towards the goal of a complete count in the 2020 Census. Time after time, immigrant, minority, and Indigenous communities in America’s cities have been undercounted in all official statistics, with disastrous results that the current crisis is again making clear.

Since February, we’ve made a total of 17 video and 3 audio messages with NYC speakers of over a dozen language varieties and we’re continuing to spread the word and assist with NYC’s large-scale push to make sure all New Yorkers are counted. ELA videos include 6 major Indigenous languages of Latin America:

  • Garifuna (Honduras, Belize, Guatemala)
  • K’iche (Guatemala)
  • Kichwa (Ecuador – multiple dialects)
  • Mixtec (Mexico – multiple dialects)
  • Quechua (Peru)
  • Tlapanec (Mexico)

…as well as the following 4 major under-represented Asian languages: 

  • Indonesian
  • Nepali
  • Tajik
  • Tibetan

The timeline for the census is being extended. If you haven’t already, go to my2020census.gov (if possible using the Census ID on the card you were mailed) and fill it out now! Over a trillion dollars in resources depends on it.

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Diaries from the Epicenter: Immigrant New Yorkers Talk About COVID-19

Nearly every day since April, 14 New Yorkers from diverse backgrounds speaking 10 different Himalayan and Indigenous Latin American languages have been recording diaries of their experiences of the COVID-19 pandemic at the epicenter of the epicenter: NYC’s multilingual immigrant neighborhoods. Now hundreds of these recordings are freely available via Soundcloud, with English summaries for over half (when viewed on a computer).

Explore and get to know the Himalayan New Yorkers who are recording diaries: an expectant mother, a nurse battling the virus herself, an amchi (Tibetan doctor) trying to help his patients, a worried parent, and others. Listen to language varieties like Dzongkha (the national language of Bhutan), Dolpo (from a remote Himalayan valley in Nepal), and Amdo Tibetan (with its long nomadic pastoralist tradition). This playlist contains the most recently uploaded entries for each diarist, but you can click on any individual diarist to see all of their entries, for instance Yeshi’s 54 entries.

Another set of diaries look at the experiences of Indigenous Latin American New Yorkers — speakers of Mixtec, Tlapanec, and K’iche, including essential workers and those involved in mutual aid efforts. There are corresponding Spanish audio summaries by the speakers themselves for most of the Indigenous entries.

Free and open to all for non-commercial use, the “New York COVID-19” diaries form just one part of an emerging project which also includes ELA’s supporting role in direct aid; individual interviews with community leaders; multilingual materials related to the pandemic and community responses; and a separate but closely related effort to map the city’s languages. We’re doing this for community members, first responders, scholars, policymakers, and the general public — not just to grapple what is happening right now, but to increase understanding in the likely event of future public health and socioeconomic crises.

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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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