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Posts Tagged ‘Queens’

0705-polyglot-3

Photo: Ann Hermes/Christian Science Monitor
Daniel Kaufman, founder of the Endangered Language Alliance, is recording and preserving the many endangered languages of New York.

A number of people who follow this blog are interested in endangered languages and what is being done to save them. Recently, I saw this article on the treasure trove of rare languages that is found in — of all places — Queens, New York. Here it is.

Harry Bruninius writes at the Christian Science Monitor, “Like many immigrants who live near the busy subway hub in Jackson Heights, Tenzin Namdol usually talks to her family and friends with a shape-shifting array of tongues.

“She’ll jump from colloquial Tibetan to standard English in the middle of a conversation almost without a thought, and then start speaking what she says has become a third hybrid of slang, combining the phonetics of both. She also speaks fluent Hindi. ….

“Despite this easy fluency in a number of very different languages, Ms. Namdol becomes wistful when it comes to one she hasn’t quite mastered – the native tongue of her mother, whose people speak a rare Himalayan dialect called Mustangi.

“There are only about 3,000 people left in the world who still speak Mustangi, and most live in a remote Himalayan region in western Nepal. But a few hundred or so of these speakers, including Ms. Namdol’s mother, now reside in the New York borough of Queens.

This also happens to be the most linguistically diverse neighborhood on earth, scholars say.

“With as many as 800 distinct languages, Queens has a diversity of tongues and dialects unprecedented in human history – and its epicenter is here amid the concentrated din of Jackson Heights. …

” ‘Sadly, my mother didn’t pass down her language to me,’ says Ms. Namdol, whose family lived among the Tibetan diaspora in Dharamshala, India, before emigrating to New York. …

“Part of this classic story, too, has been the well-intended reactions of immigrant parents like her mother, who raised her daughter to speak the lingua franca of their wider community, the standard Tibetan used for commerce, government institutions, and the traditions of Buddhism. What use could a language like Mustangi offer her daughter?

“ ‘Now if I go to a gathering of my mother’s people, I’m not able to understand their words, so they don’t really identify me as one of their own because I don’t know their language,’ says Ms. Namdol. …

“For the past year, she has begun to learn the words of Mustangi, volunteering with the Endangered Language Alliance, a nonprofit in Manhattan that works with immigrant communities to preserve their dying languages.

“Collecting the stories of local Tibetans in their native tongues, she’s been recording them for the alliance’s project ‘Voices of the Himalayas,’ learning more about some of the other seven languages spoken in Jackson Heights’ Tibetan diaspora, including her father’s native tongue, Kyirong, a three-tone Tibetic language spoken mostly in Nepal. …

” ‘This  neighborhood in particular is like, I would say, the Noah’s Ark of languages,” says Daniel Kaufman, a professor of linguistics at Queens College and the executive director of the Endangered Language Alliance. … And it’s really just a coincidence, Dr. Kaufman says, that Jackson Heights happens to be at the crossroads of language diversity. The immigrant communities clustered here happen to be from countries that already have the most spoken languages in the world. …

“Alex Paz, however, may be one of only a handful of people living in New York who speaks P’urhépecha, an indigenous pre-Columbian language spoken in southern Mexico.

Considered an ‘isolate’ among human tongues, P’urhépecha is not only rare, but also one of a kind, linguistically unrelated to any other known language in the world.

“ ‘There are things that can only be said in my language,’ says Mr. Paz, an immigrant from the small mountain town of Ocumícho in the Michoacán region of southern Mexico. ‘Even at home, I can see how my language is disappearing, and this means a lot of cultural aspects, too, because language – once we lose our language, I think that’s the essence of who we are.’ …

“Mr. Paz, too, has been volunteering for the Endangered Language Alliance, trying to locate and collect everything that’s been written in P’urhépecha over the past few decades. And while he hasn’t found anyone else in New York who speaks his language, Mr. Paz has been immersed in it as he never has before, putting what he finds into a database and then providing word-by-word translations into English and Spanish – a complex and complicated task, he says, since many of his language’s words contain concepts nearly impossible to translate. …

“ ‘It’s like the language is the only thing that we have left, and its concepts,’ Mr. Paz says. ‘I don’t want to read somewhere, or have to say, “Back in the day in Michoacán we used to speak this language, P’urhépecha.” It’s sad, and I want to at least try to keep it alive.’ ”

More here.

Photo: Mark Lenihan/AP
The No. 7 subway train arrives at the 82 Street Jackson Heights station in Queens. Jackson Heights is one of the more diverse neighborhoods in New York City. 

0705-polyglot-2

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Photo: Rafael Herrin-Ferri/Architectural League of New York
“Eclectic Row, Briarwood, NY” (2017), from the exhibit
All the Queens Houses.

How much do you know about Queens, New York, a Big Apple borough located on Long Island? I think you’ll like this. A photographer, intrigued by the fiercely independent architectural self-expression of the borough’s denizens, recently showcased some of the quirkiest styles at the Architectural League of New York.

As Allison Meier reports at Hyperallergic, “In 2012, Rafael Herrin-Ferri began systematically photographing the houses of Queens, the New York City borough he calls home. The Spanish-born artist and architect lives in Sunnyside, one of the many neighborhoods which make up one of the world’s most ethnically diverse urban areas. Herrin-Ferri noticed that the architecture of Queens reflected this diversity. ,,,

“Over 270 of Herrin-Ferri’s photographs of 34 neighborhoods [were recently] installed at the Architectural League of New York in All the Queens Houses. … The ongoing photographic survey can be explored on his project website, also called All the Queens Houses. There viewers can explore by neighborhood, typologies (like detached houses and apartment buildings), and architectural details (including stoops and gardens). There’s a map of where he’s surveyed houses, with about a third of the borough covered in 5,000 photographs.

“ ‘I have always been interested in houses and was impressed by how idiosyncratic — and unorthodox — the low-rise housing stock is,’ Herrin-Ferri said. ‘They express the personal preferences and cultural backgrounds of their owners without much regard for what is “correct,” marketable, or fashionable. … I started this series of house portraits with the idea that it would reveal something about the urban vernacular in the “world’s borough.” ‘ …

“He believes that the community demographics inspire an ‘urbanism of tolerance’ for more extreme experiments in architecture. …

“ ‘[Most] residents of Queens … accept multiculturalism and embrace a laissez-faire attitude about building,’ Herrin-Ferri said. ‘Homeowners that I have talked to understand that people from different cultures have different ideas about what their houses should look like, and there is mutual respect.’ ”

See more photos at Hyperallergic, here.

Photo: Rafael Herrin-Ferri/Architectural League of New York
“Splayed Brick-and-Stone Rusticated Entry Porch, Maspeth, NY” (2015), from All the Queens Houses.

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Of the various articles written recently about the elderly Koreans hanging out in a McDonald’s in Queens, the one I liked best and learned the most from was Michael Kimmelman’s at the NY Times. He asks an intriguing question.

“Why that McDonald’s?

“The kerfuffle started when word spread that the police were repeatedly evicting elderly Korean patrons from a McDonald’s in Queens. The Koreans have been milking their stays over $1.09 coffees, violating the restaurant’s 20-minute dining limit. The news made headlines as far away as Seoul. Last week, Ron Kim, a New York State assemblyman, brokered a détente: The restaurant promised not to call the police if the Koreans made room during crowded peak hours.

“Still, the question remains. The McDonald’s at issue occupies the corner of Parsons and Northern Boulevards, in Flushing. A Burger King is two blocks away. There are scores of fast-food outlets, bakeries and cafes near Main Street, a half-mile away

“So, in the vein of the urban sociologist William H. Whyte, who helped design better cities by watching how people use spaces, I spent some time in Flushing. What I found reinforced basic lessons about architecture, street life and aging neighborhoods.” Read it all.

My key takeaways: older people, especially those with canes, think two blocks from home is OK, but not four; elderly people like picture windows and a busy street corner with a constantly changing scene; they like looking in to see if people like them are inside (the McDonald’s on Main Street has older Chinese, not Koreans); they like little nooks where a group can gather comfortably.

As a longtime booster of walkable communities, I find it all makes perfect sense. If such naturally occurring communities continue to appear, perhaps they should be encouraged, with some kind of compensation for the business owner. What if the city redirected some money for senior programs to a business that provided space in downtimes? Crazy?

My husband frequents a coffee shop group where folks hang out but not all day. That group has had its differences with the proprietor, goodness knows. There ought to be ways to make everyone happy.

Photo: Damon Winter/The New York Times
Picture windows, lively traffic and easy access for the elderly: the McDonald’s at Northern and Parsons Boulevards in Queens.

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Erik is in no danger of giving up Sweden. Today he and Suzanne took my grandson to a Santa Lucia celebration in a friend’s house, and Erik helped with the singing and wore a pointy hat that I never knew was part of the deal. (I always thought the Santa Lucia ceremony was just about a girl with candles in her hair.) Swedish customs are living on in Rhode Island.

In Queens, New York, customs from home countries are not only flourishing but being passed to new generations. I liked a story on the topic by Lynnette Chiu at Narratively.

“As soon as the children conclude their routine,” she writes, “the 300-capacity ballroom echoes with the sound of coins hitting the dance floor. The young boys in lederhosen and girls in scarlet dirndl dresses break formation and a scramble ensues to collect the loose change and dollar bills tossed their way by family and friends. The joy is in the gathering rather than the gains; as per tradition, they obediently deposit their loot in the outstretched aprons of the dance group’s older girls.

“While the movements of Die Erste Gottscheer Tanzgruppe—The First Gottscheer Dance Group—are the occasion of the day, it’s the older generation who are doing most of the afternoon’s dancing. …

“Meticulously set tables accommodate pitchers of Hofbrau, wine bottles and cocktail glasses, leaving the family-style platters of chicken cutlet, pork loin and all the trimmings jostling for real estate. …

“What began as a place to preserve and celebrate Gottscheer culture has now become a go-to locale for other communities in [the Ridgewood neighborhood of Queens] to nurture their own traditions. Along with numerous quinceañeras—rite of passage fifteenth birthday parties for Latin American girls—Gottscheer Hall hosts the gatherings of the Ridgewood Nepalese Society, and recently opened its doors to the Ridgewood Market, where artsy vendors hawk vintage wares and DIY baubles.” Read more at Narratively.

Photo: Aaron Adler

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