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Daniel Kaufman

Thu, Feb 16, 2017    6:30pm

Understanding the Long Tail of Linguistic Diversity in New York City​

Daniel Kauffman, Endangered Languages Alliance and Queens College

Responses by Laura Kurgan and Lydia Liu

Daniel Kaufman is a linguist who has focused on the languages of the Austronesian family for the last decade and a half. In 2008, he founded the Urban Fieldstation for Linguistic Research, with the purpose of initiating long-term language projects in cooperation with immigrant communities in NYC and local linguistics students. In 2010, this became formalized as ELA, a 501©(3) non-profit organization, and has continued to grow since. In 2015, he became Assistant Professor at Queens College, where he is heading the new Language Documentation Lab.

Abstract: General knowledge of multilingualism in NYC is almost completely restricted to major national languages like Spanish, Russian, Mandarin Chinese, among several others. In this talk, I discuss our experiences and findings over eight years of working with New York’s smaller linguistic minorities at the Endangered Language Alliance, a non-profit that strives to document and conserve these languages through collaboration with immigrant communities. 

The main questions to be tackled here are the following: Where do NYC’s endangered languages come from and what phenomena have driven them here? Do these languages have chances of survival in diaspora settings like NYC? How widespread is the problem of "language isolation" (Semple 2014)? Can immigrant communities in NYC have a positive effect on language prestige and transmission in the homeland? 

I also examine different types of linguistic communities in NYC, some of which are fully reconstituted physical communities and others which are more virtual in nature. Finally, I consider the future of NYC’s linguistic diversity as we enter increasingly uncertain times.

Organized by the Center for Spatial Research and the Institute for Comparative Literature and Society as part of the Conflict Urbanism: Language Justice lecture series.

This lecture series focuses on the role of language as a structuring force of cities, and brings together speakers to address the ways that urban spaces and their digital traces are physically shaped by linguistic diversity and to examine the results of languages coming into contact and conflict.