Mother Tongues is a call to action to preserve NYC’s linguistic diversity
ranging from endangered languages to the NYC accent, a unique opportunity to meet
and learn about New York City’s remarkably diverse linguistic communities.
Linguists estimate that half of the world’s languages will disappear this century.
NYC is a living language lab where there are more spoken and endangered languages than
anywhere else in the world. New York City is home to over 700 languages, and many of
these are in danger of being lost. At the heart of the exhibit were ten large, high-quality
photographs by Yuri Marder, featuring ELA’s local collaborators in New York City,
each one of whom speaks a different endangered language. Accompanying several portraits
were sound recordings and short written texts. The exhibit also included a map highlight
New York’s connection to linguistic diversity across the globe, a children’s
book and game section, information on New York City English, and an area where visitors
could record their own language. Many visitors contributed to the show by adding a line
to the “People’s Khonsay”, an evolving poem in 50 different languages,
in their own mother tongue. Over 2,000 visitors had the chance to encounter endangered
languages, and the exhibit was also featured on Channel 7 and Channel 4 News in New York City,
as well as on NPR.