“To speak a language is to take on a world, a culture.”
Many describe their culture as their knowledge, attitudes, and habitual behavior patterns that have been passed down from prior generations. Writing is a major aspect of culture. Culture is a product of the human mind and it is defined, and sustained through language. Each writing system tells the story of its culture’s history, its evolving technology, even its deeply embedded values. In accordance, Language is intimately associated with cultural identity.
While, language forms a basis for ethnic, regional, national or international identity. The power of language to reflect culture and influence thinking can be seen in Queens, New York. According to the Endangered Language Alliance (ELA) organization, approximately 800 different languages are being spoken within the area of the Queens. Language is ultimately a tool used to convey and maintain cultural traits.
Queens can be described as a diverse borough that is home to immigrants from all over the globe, and a key component of New York City’s diverse population. Statistics will show, that approximately 2.2 million residents are of foreign decent. A recent look at race and ethnicity contribute to the increasing diversity within the area.
Immigrants from approximately a 100 different countries speak 21 different languages according to Census data tract 281 – making Queens the most diverse plot of land in the city. In addition, not only are the languages spoken on the street consistently changing. Business labels as well as street signs are being transformed. Changes such as, information signs warning passengers riding the subway, to avoid electrified rails can be seen written in seven different languages.
Since the drastic explosion of diversity within the area, a noticeable decrease in tension between different ethnic group can be seen. Statistically, no one group dominates the area. As minority groups increase, it appears as if everyone seems to find their own space within the mixed area.
Queens’ linguistic diversity, poses a threat to endangered languages. Organizations such as ELA have been set up to help preserve such an important cultural trait. Furthermore, the Endangered Language Alliance applies field work techniques to research cities’ ethnic enclaves.