The Endangered Language Alliance (ELA) was founded in 2010 by linguists Daniel Kaufman and Juliette Blevins and poet Bob Holman to work with immigrant and refugee populations in New York and other cities to document and maintain their languages. At the same time, ELA has worked through numerous outreach and education events to increase the public’s awareness of urban linguistic diversity. Language Town Meetings at the Bowery Poetry Club resulted in a language census that estimates some 800 languages in NYC, marking the city as the most linguistically diverse spot on the planet. Half of all New Yorkers speak a language other than English at home, and many others have languages other than English in their family history. More than 100 endangered languages can be found here.
Even as most of the world’s languages become marginalized in their places of origin, more and more speakers of endangered languages are migrating to urban centers across the world. Yet linguistic fieldwork still mostly takes place in remote villages and few city-dwellers fully recognize the substantial linguistic and cultural diversity all around them. Melting pots like New York are home to hundreds of endangered minority languages, from the Otomanguean languages of Mexico to the Nilo-Saharan languages of Sudan and everywhere between. Religious liturgies, native-language literatures, ethnic newspapers, and radio stations quietly struggle and flourish.
ELA worked in partnership with Grubin Productions on Language Matters with Bob Holman, a documentary film by David Grubin. Released on PBS in January 2015, the film is the most public acknowledgment thus far of the Language Movement; it won Best Documentary at the Berkeley Film and Video Festival in 2014. Visit languagemattersfilm.com to stream the film in its entirety from PBS Video. For more on the Endangered Language Alliance, visit elalliance.org.