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Languages and Cultures of Immigrant New York

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SINY 63 - Languages and Cultures of Immigrant New York

Of all the superlatives attributed to NYC, perhaps the most unexamined and poorly understood is its status as the world’s most culturally and linguistically diverse city, past or present. New Yorkers not only come from every country on earth but speak an estimated 800 languages, many of them endangered, and represent an unprecedented range of Indigenous and minority cultures. The archetypal New Yorker is a multilingual immigrant, but linguistic and cultural loss are also pervasive. 

This course explores the immigrant city, using language and culture as a lens for understanding how new communities form, evolve, and integrate. In focus will be four of New York’s fastest- growing but least-studied groups: Indigenous Latin Americans, Himalayans, Central Asians, and West Africans. Students will read and hear accounts directly from community members while also grappling with broader questions around urban space, education, policy, and the future of mobility.

This course fulfills the Exploring Difference and Power (EDP) and Social Inquiry (SI) WAYS requirements. 

Meet the Instructor(s)

Ross Perlin

Ross Perlin is co-director of the Endangered Language Alliance (ELA), a non-profit research institute focused on documenting and supporting endangered languages in New York City and beyond. At ELA since 2013, he has edited the Languages of New York City map ( and managed a variety of projects focused on language documentation, language policy, and public programming around urban linguistic diversity. Himalayan languages are a research focus — for his PhD in Linguistics at the University of Bern, Ross created a trilingual dictionary, a corpus of recordings, and a descriptive grammar of Trung, an endangered language of southwest China, based on several years of fieldwork. Ross has a BA from Stanford, an M.Phil. from Cambridge, and an MA from the University of London (SOAS). Ross is also a writer and translator, currently working on a book about New York and its least-known languages.