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New York, a Graveyard for Languages

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New York City is currently the most linguistically rich location on earth, with 800 different languages, but is also the place, or “graveyard”, where many languages go to die. Around the world, many languages—especially those of the indigenous—are becoming extinct because of the superior advantages of other languages, such as English, which has universal use around the world. New York City is no exception, where immigrants from other countries are abandoning their mother tongue for the dominant languages of English and Spanish, causing their old languages to perish.

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New York has the highest linguistic density in the world, because the city is able to draw large numbers of immigrants in almost equal quantities from all around the globe. The city offers so much in such a confined space—housing, jobs, stability—which is extremely pleasing to those escaping from oppression, persecution, or poverty. However, the influx of immigrants has also caused New York to become a graveyard of languages and culture. A significant factor causing this extinction is that people are transitioning out of their mother tongue to the dominant languages of the land—English and Spanish. People feel inclined to make the change because they realize that their native language is not very useful when living in a city that predominantly utilizes English, whether that be in advertisements or signs, newspapers, or simply verbal communication.

Furthermore, being the last speakers of a language can be lonely—having no way to talk to other people, unable to experience the culture and society of New York—therefore, many leave their old language for the new, resulting in even less speakers and eventual extinction. Language is a significant component of culture, and with its extinction, culture cannot survive. Language has an important social function and promotes group identity and solidarity amongst people when used as a means of communicating beliefs, values, and customs. Specifically in New York, where over 800 languages exist, it is paramount to maintain the language of a culture or ethnic group in order for cultural heritage, values and beliefs, and identity to be preserved. When a language becomes extinct, the traditions and shared values of a culture may not be preserved, causing the culture to be forgotten and disappear.

For example, Garifuna, an Arawakan language from Honduras and Belize would have become extinct with zero records of the language or culture, if it were not for two Garifuna speakers who helped document not only their language, but also aspects of their culture through traditional song. This demonstrates how closely intertwined language and culture are, and the significance of language in maintaining crucial aspects of culture.

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