New York - Languages

Just as New York for three centuries has channeled immigrant speakers of other languages into the English-speaking population, so it has helped to channel some of their words into English, with much more rapid dissemination because of the concentration of publishing and communications industries in New York City.

Little word-borrowing followed contacts by European settlers with the unfriendly Iroquois, who between the 14th and 17th centuries had dispersed the several Algonkian tribes of Montauk, Delaware, and Mahican Indians. In New York State, the effect on English has been almost entirely the adoption of such place-names as Manhattan, Adirondack, Chautauqua, and Skaneateles.

Although the speech of metropolitan New York has its own characteristics, in the state as a whole the Northern dialect predominates. New York State residents generally say /hahg/ and /fahg/ for hog and fog, /krik/ for creek, greasy with an /s/ sound, and half and path with the vowel of cat. They keep the /r/ after a vowel, as in far and cord; sharply differentiate horse and hoarse by pronouncing the former with the vowel of haw and the latter with the vowel of hoe; and call a clump of hard maples a sugarbush.

There are many regional variations. In the Hudson Valley, horse and hoarse tend to be pronounced alike, and a sugarbush is called a sap bush. In the eastern sector, New England piazza for porch and buttonball for sycamore are found, as is the Hudson Valley term nightwalker for a large earthworm. In the Niagara peninsula, Midland eavespout (gutter) and bawl (how a calf sounds) have successfully moved north from Pennsylvania to invade Northern speech. In the North Country, some Canadian influence survives in stook (shock), boodan (liver sausage), and shivaree (wedding celebration). In the New York City area, many speakers pronounce bird almost as if it were /boyd/, do not sound the /h/ in whip or the /r/ after a vowel—although the trend now is toward the /r/ pronunciation—may pronounce initial /th/ almost like /t/ or /d/, stand on line (instead of in a line) while waiting to buy a huge sandwich they call a hero and may even pronounce Long Island with an inserted /g/ as / long giland/. From the high proportion of New York Yiddish speakers (nearly 40% of all those in the US in 1990) have come such terms as schlock, schmaltz, and chutzpah.

Serious communication problems have arisen in New York City, especially in the schools, because of the major influx since World War II of Spanish speakers from the Caribbean region, speakers of so-called black English from the South, and, more recently, Asians, in addition to the ever-present large numbers of speakers of other languages. As a result, schools in some areas have emphasized teaching English as a second language.

According to the 2000 census, 72% of all New Yorkers five years of age or older spoke only English at home, down from 76.7% in 1990.

The following table gives selected statistics from the 2000 census for language spoken at home by persons five years old and over. The category "Other Indic languages" includes Bengali, Marathi, Punjabi, and Romany. The category "Other Indo-European languages" includes Albanian, Gaelic, Lithuanian, and Rumanian. The category "African languages" includes Amharic, Ibo, Twi, Yoruba, Bantu, Swahili, and Somali. The category "Other Asian languages" includes Dravidian languages, Malayalam, Telugu, Tamil, and Turkish. The category "Other Slavic languages" includes Czech, Slovak, and Ukrainian. The category "Other West Germanic languages" includes Dutch, Pennsylvania Dutch, and Afrikaans. The category "Scandinavian languages" includes Danish, Norwegian, and Swedish.

New York

Population 5 years and over 17,749,110 100.0
Speak only English 12,786,189 72.0
Speak a language other than English 4,962,921 28.0
Speak a language other than English 4,962,921 28.0
Spanish or Spanish Creole 2,416,126 13.6
Chinese 374,627 2.1
Italian 294,271 1.7
Russian 218,765 1.2
French (incl. Patois, Cajun) 180,809 1.0
French Creole 114,747 0.6
Yiddish 113,514 0.6
Polish 111,730 0.6
Korean 102,105 0.6
Other Indic languages 97,212 0.5
German 92,709 0.5
Greek 86,659 0.5
Arabic 69,959 0.4
Hebrew 67,675 0.4
Tagalog 65,506 0.4
Other Indo-European languages 61,128 0.3
African languages 54,271 0.3
Other Asian languages 53,400 0.3
Urdu 52,448 0.3
Portuguese or Portuguese Creole 41,378 0.2
Hindi 41,151 0.2
Other Slavic languages 39,619 0.2
Japanese 34,569 0.2
Serbo-Croatian 31,553 0.2
Persian 25,975 0.1
Vietnamese 20,249 0.1
Hungarian 18,421 0.1
Gujarathi 16,908 0.1
Other West Germanic languages 13,415 0.1
Scandinavian languages 11,974 0.1

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