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Languages of New York

Victor, a native speaker of Nahuatl, an Aztec language of Mexico.

One of the reasons I moved to New York was because of its diversity. I live four blocks from the subway stop, and nearly every time I make the walk either to or from the subway, I hear at least one language other than English spoken in the street. (The Indian owner of the newsstand near the subway carries, among other newspapers, Nowy Dziennik, Diario de México, El Diario, and the Irish Times.)


I once entertained the idea of becoming a linguist and I’m still fascinated by languages: how they sound, how their grammars differ, how the languages continue to change. So I thought it would be fun to do a portrait project on people who speak the languages heard in New York.

Little did I know …

There are, it turns out, in the vicinity of 800 languages spoken in New York. Yup, languages, not dialects. Merde! I found the Endangered Language Alliance, met with directors Daniel Kaufman and Juliette Blevins, and have embarked on a pilot project with them. We’re starting by photographing and taping some native speakers of Nahuatl, an Aztec language of Mexico.

Lots of details to sort out: project scope, technical issues, logistics, financial. But the people I’ve been working with are great. And the food’s an unexpected bonus!

Turkey mole and rice, with hot corn tortillas.

Click for more photos from the Languages of New York Project.