New York City is, without a doubt, one of the most culturally diverse cities in the world. It's almost impossible to walk down the street without seeing the vibrant interweaving of other cultures into the American whole. In the January 22, 2011 New York Times article, Then as Now -- New York’s Shifting Ethnic Mosaic, the authors note that New York City is even more culturally diverse than it was a decade ago. New York City has the highest foreign-born population ever. Moreover, as the New York Times explains, “Once monolithic tracts of white and black and native-born residents have become bespeckled with newcomers.” Thus, to be in New York is to be in a city of countless tongues. The languages of the world are deeply ingrained in every corner of the city, and with them, their distinctive cultures.
Voices of New York is a project undertaken by Professor Renée Blake (in the Departments of Linguistics and Social & Cultural Analysis at New York University) and her undergraduate students (in the course The Language of America's Ethnic Minorities). The goal of the project is to hear the voices of immigrant communities in New York City (NYC), and learn about the people behind them. The students have traveled throughout the boroughs of NYC to seek out neighborhoods and communities where ethnic cultures are thought to be flourishing. There, they discover the degree to which the distinct languages (LOTE: Languages other than English) are being maintained or lost in the context of an English-speaking nation, and the implications for cultural distinctiveness or assimilation. The findings of this sociolinguistic research are presented here as a digital humanities project, Voices of New York.
The Voices of New York project allows us the opportunity to learn about the degree to which ethnic communities in New York City have changed over time demographically, culturally and linguistically; and what the contributing factors may be. This multi-year project reveals the dynamic nature of an ever-changing city.
Voices of New York is a web-based research project developed for the undergraduate class, The Language of America's Ethnic Minorities. The Voices of New York project allows New York University (NYU) undergraduates an opportunity to learn and experience first-hand how Languages Other than English (LOTEs) are maintained or lost in New York City, one of the most culturally and linguistically diverse cities in the world. This multi-year project serves as a tool that allows students to acquire basic research skills, learn about language variation and change, have a deeper experience with a New York City community, and create new knowledge that will have a life long after they have graduated from NYU. The long-term impact is evidenced by the successful creation and maintenance of the first related website (which is now incorporated here) that was accessed and used by students, faculty and the public around the world over the past decade.
The information on New York’s ethnic communities gathered from this class and available on ArcGis allows for bridges to be made with other community-based research occurring in NYU’s classrooms locally and globally for future learning and collaboration.
In the Fall of 2001, Professor Renée Blake developed a web-based component for the New York University (NYU) Morse Academic Plan (MAP) course, The Language of America's Ethnic Minorities. Originally, Voices of New York was created to document language loss and assimilation in thirty-four ethnic communities throughout the boroughs of New York City. Seventeen and ten of these communities were revisited in Fall 2011 and Fall 2015, respectively, to learn about the degree to which ethnic communities in New York City had changed demographically, culturally and linguistically; and what the contributing factors may be.
The Voices of New York project has allowed students to hone the following skills:
Support from the following offices/grants at NYU allowed for the 2001, 2011 and 2015 projects to be transferred to and further developed on ArcGis, a mapping and geographic design and managing system, with the goal of linking the critical information gathered from these projects to related community-based research occurring in NYU’s classrooms locally and globally for future learning and collaboration: The Humanities Initiative (Grant-in-Aid)- 2013 Office of Faculty Resources (Curriculum Development Challenge Fund)- 2011 Faculty Grant for Teaching and Technology- 2011 College of Arts and Science- 2001 Individuals: Tori Hill (2015), Yasmine Kattan (2015), and Whitney Reynolds (2001) are the NYU undergraduates who shared their technological expertise to the learning vision for this digital humanities in and about a major urban center. Jane Tylus, Faculty Director, NYU Center for the Humanities. Aysa Berger, former Director, NYU Center for the Humanities. Peter Schilling, Associate Vice President in Global Technology Services for Learning and Innovation, New York University. Holly Orr, Global Technology Services-GIS, New York University. The original web project created in 2001 was funded with special support from former Dean of College of Arts and Science (CAS) Matthew Santirocco, along with Associate Dean Sandy Sanderlin and former Assistant Director of MAP Vincent Renzi for its innovation. Anne Ward, Associate Director, Faculty Resource Network. Sociolinguistics graduate students Cara Shousterman, Allison Shapp and Erez Levon made strong contributions to the course development connected to this project between 2011 and 2015. Allison gained technological expertise needed to advance the project. Finally, Professors John Rickford, Gregory Guy and John Baugh, Professor Blake’s early mentors, planted the seeds for the conception of this project. Dr. Rickford’s long-held belief that students should be creators, not solely imbibers of knowledge, Dr. Guy’s Sociolinguistic course work on Languages Other than English (LOTEs), and Dr. Baugh’s strong support of public intellectuals have served as invaluable stimuli and impetuses.