Language, the Other and the City of New York By Danielle Gold
Why Language? “It’s not what you say, but how you say it” Language is a key part of all communications. Observing language as part of written and spoken communication can often provide insight on the speaker/writers’ interests, nationality, education and perceived interests. Dialects and languages, especially foreign ones, are often seen as barriers and have become a topic of political controversy.
Language to Me “Students with Language skills are urged to use them and draw upon sources in languages other than English” English is my only language. --Like many American students, I studied Spanish in high school. I could at one point, read and speak the language. Ironically, these skills have faded since I entered college and New York City.
My language skills are limited, especially when compared to my classmates.
-- There is no reason for Prof. Kasinitz or my classmates to expect me to speak a language other than English.
Language to Me Cont. “We have two ears and one mouth so we can listen twice as much as we speak” -Epictetus As a New Yorker, I see and hear the English Language everywhere. I also see, hear and fail to understand, a great number of foreign languages everywhere. At times, I see two or more languages combined, by the same person, usually for the same audience, but occasionally not. I have to assume that much of these visual/verbal communications are usually the result of the work of immigrants or children of immigrants
Does Language Use Make the Other? “First of all, you go into a Chinese restaurant and you can’t even order. That’s kind of embarrassing. Another thing that I remember was that I was very young and I was walking in the park and there was this white guy that spoke perfect Chinese and I couldn’t even speak my name in Chinese. That was embarrassing too. I’m Chinese, I can’t even talk and this guy is white and he can” Although the Other is a subjective term, for the purpose of this project, the Other is usually those who are not seen as relevant to the dominant society. It’s the concept of “Us vs. Them” People who share a native language can communicate with one another better than they can with those that do not. Use a language acknowledges that the audience that speaks that language is important to the the community.
Is there a dominant society or culture in New York City? Or is there only the perception of one?
Who Could Be the Other Because of Their Language? “No object is mysterious. The mystery is your eye” – Elizabeth Bowen Immigrants who speak a language other than English in a English speaking Country Children of Immigrants who are not as fluent as relatives in their parent’s and grandparent’s language American gentrifiers of traditionally non-English speaking communities Residents of a multi-lingual world city compared to the rest of America
Language in the United States of America “Defend our liberties and fashions into one united people the multitudes brought hither out of many kindred and tongues ” – Thomas Jefferson The American population is roughly 300 million. Approximately 337 languages are spoken or signed by the population, of which 176 are indigenous to the area. 82% of the population claims English as their native language. 96% of the population claims to speak English “well” or “very well”
Language in the United States of America Cont. “We are never going to get people into the mainstream unless they are English capable.” -John McCain A Gallup poll shows that 1 in 4 Americans can hold a conversation in a Second Language. There is a big movement to make English the Official Language of America. However, no official language exists at the Federal level. 27 out of 50 states have passed laws making English their official language.
Language in New York City “It is ridiculous to set a detective story in New York. New York is itself a detective story.” -Agatha Christie New York Cities population is roughly 8,000,000. New York’s Population is exceptionally diverse. In 2005, 170 languages were spoken in the city. Less than half of the city’s population speaks English at home exclusively.
Languages in New York Cont. “The interweaving of complexity that necessarily follows from its size with the complexity added by the origins of its population drawn from a staggering number of countries and every race, makes New York one of the most difficult cities in the world to understand.” Immigrants and their children form a majority of the population in New York City. 35% of all New Yorkers are foreign born and their native born children constitute another 17% percent. As a result of immigration, there are many current and historical ethnic enclaves in New York City.
Dialect of New York City “To start with, there's the alien accent. "Tree" is the number between two and four. "Jeintz" is the name of the New York professional football team. A "fit" is a bottle measuring seven ounces less than a quart. This exotic tongue has no relationship to any of the approved languages at the United Nations, and is only slightly less difficult to master than Urdu.” - Fletcher Knebel New York is as well known for its dialect(s) as it is for its diversity and quantity of languages. See the above quote for some examples. What is thought as by many as today’s New York or Brooklyn accent, is heavily influenced by Italian and Yiddish. As immigrant populations left the cities for the suburbs, variations of the New York City dialect spread to “Long Guyland” and “New Joisey”
Dialect of New York City Cont. This lesson was developed by New Yorkers for actors. It’s a pretty accurate depiction of a New York accent.
Dialect of New York City: New York Latino English “I am Usnavi and you prob’y never heard my name. Reports of my fame are greatly exaggerated, exacerbated by fact that my syntax is highly complicated by the cuz I immigrated from the single greatest nation in the Caribbean, the Dominican ” - In the Heights Nuyorican English is a dialect spoken mostly by Spanish Speaking Immigrants and Children of immigrants living in New York City. It is also known “New York Latino English,” which acknowledges the other Hispanic groups that speak it. It is similar to “Chicano English,” a Southwestern Spanish based immigrant accent and coexists with Spanglish, which is the use of Spanish words and English words alongside one another.
Dialect of New York City: New York Latino English Cont. This is the Video of “In The Heights” the titular song of the Tony Award Winning Video is an example of Nuyorican English. Its worth noting that it’s creator accurately depicts the New York City Immigrant experience although he is actually the suburb-raised child of Immigrants
Dialect of New York City: Ebonics “I done fly dat ghetto wit ProffessaKasinitz and my MHC seminar.” - Ebonics is also known as African American Vernacular English, African American English, Black Vernacular or Black Vernacular English. It started developing in the 16th century and reached New York City with the great migration. Negation and verb usage differ from Standard American English. Certain Pronoun sounds are omitted.
Dialect of New York City: Ebonics Continued A Raisin in the Sun was written by an New York based African American playwright in late 1950’s. It depicts the struggles of an Urban Black Family. Inspired by the works of the Harlem Renaissance, most of the characters speak in a black dialect.
History of Language in New Amsterdam “The heterogeneous ethnic character for which New York has long been famous began to emerge on April 17, 1527, when the first European vessal sailed into the harbor.” New York was explored by Italians, French, Portuguese and English prior to its initial purchase and colonization by the Dutch. Holland was well known for its tolerance and New Amsterdam followed in its precedent. Frenchmen and Jews from Spain, Poland, Germany and Portugal had made their way to New Amsterdam by the 1640’s. By the time New Amsterdam fell to the British and was renamed New York, it was the most diverse city in the colonies.
History of Language in New York Although French and Dutch Immigration slowed down after the American Revolution, a great quantity of English, German, Scottish and Irish Immigrants moved in during the late 18th century. Immigration was often caused by political instability as with the Irish and French in the 1790’s and French, Germans and Italians in the 1830’s and 1840’s
History of Language in New York Cont. The years between 1815 and 1880 have been know as the “Age of Old Immigration” Most of the immigrants that came in this time were Irish and German’s affected by the Great Potato Blight. Germans were the amongst the first immigrant groups to attempt (and succeed) at maintaining their native culture. The Welsh also published newspapers in their language in the early 19th century.
History of Language in New York Cont. “Give me your tired, Your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breath free.” -Emma Lazarus By the end of the 19th century, groups that would come in more during other waves of immigration, including Greeks, Chinese, Poles and Italians were also present and speaking their own languages. At the turn of the century, a large quantity of Italians and Jews from Russia and Germany Immigrated through Elis Island to New York. This wave of Jewish Immigration is known for their mastery of the Yiddish language.
History of Language in New York Cont. It was not long after this wave of immigration that boroughs besides Manhattan began to be populated by foreigners, which was a reoccurring theme of the 20th century. Immigration slowed during the Great Depression. After World War II, many veterans moved to suburban areas.
History of Language in New York Cont. The Hart Cellar Act, passed in 1965, eliminated special bans that limited Asian American distribution and readjusted quotas in a way that was no longer biased in favor of Western Europeans. New New Yorkers began to come from a larger variety of locations including Greece, West and East Asia, Africa and Latin America.
History of Language in New York As the immigrant body of New York City has gotten more diverse and a more global community developed with the onset of the age of mass communication, an increasing percentage immigrants have come over with a grasp of the English language. Recent immigrant groups come from the middle East, West Asia and the former Soviet Union.
A Look at Language in Today’s New York “For native born, white citizens as well as many immigrants, the business, financial and cultural capital of the world continues to hold out promise of success.” - Binder and Reimers Use of language in New York City varies by community. In some places, the vast majority speak English. In other locations, English is not the primary language. A few places seek profit off a lost history and pay tribute to assimilated immigrant groups. The perception of who is the Other can vary a lot within three blocks of New York City.
My Look at Language in Today’s New York In preparation for this project, I used my camera phone to take pictures of foreign language or multi-cultural artifacts or signs as I encountered them in the city. I think it both interesting that I naturally avoid neighborhoods where a majority of the population does not speak English. However, I found that in non-English speaking neighborhoods there was almost always an attempt to approach an English speaking clientele. Resident and visiting populations can differ in their origin. It is also worth noting that in wealthy English neighborhoods, foreign food is exoticized….but not too much!
Connecting the Dots “New York sits at the edge: like Istanbul or Mumbai, it has a distinctive appeal that lies precisely in its cantankerous relationship to the metropolitan territory beyond. It looks outward, and is thus attractive to people who would not feel comfortable further inland” - Tony Judt Languages in New York have a tradition of separating ethnic groups and generations of Immigrants. There are so many languages that it has almost become expected by the population. There are so many people that could be perceived as the Other, that no one actually completely fills such a position. There are simply too many dominant cultures. New York looks unto its self and reflects the entire world. When a well informed looks at the language of the city in general, they can always understand the general idea. We are truly a multi-cultural society.
Sources A Raisin in The Sun Trailer http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Hip2vqM7Wdg Binder, Frederick M., and David M. Reimers. All the Nations under Heaven: an Ethnic and Racial History of New York City. New York: Columbia UP, 1995. Print Fickett, Joan G. (1972), "Tense and aspect in Black English", Journal of English Linguistics6 (1): 17–19 Foner, Nancy. From Ellis Island to JFK: New York's Two Great Waves of Immigration. New Haven: Yale UP, 2000. Print. Glazer, Nathan, and Daniel P. Moynihan. Beyond the Melting Pot; the Negroes, Puerto Ricans, Jews, Italians, and Irish of New York City,. Cambridge, MA: M.I.T., 1963. Print. “In The Heights” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jTqEsNSM_OU&feature=related Member Center http://www.us-english.org/inc/official/quotes/ New Colossus PDF www.nps.gov/stli/.../new%20colossus%20for%20displaypage2.pdf “New York English Accent 1” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=apyL9wBWvIk “The New York Latino English Project” http://qcpages.qc.edu/LCD/faculty/newman/NYLE.html “New York Public Library Immigrant Services” http://www.nypl.org/help/community-outreach/immigrant-services