John Metcalfe is CityLab’s Bay Area bureau chief, based in Oakland. His coverage focuses on climate change and the science of cities.
From the French-creole communities in Brooklyn to the Laotian enclave in the Bronx.
If you want to hear someone speaking Persian in New York, try hanging around southeast Manhattan’s Peter Cooper Village. If Urdu’s more your thing, head to the neighborhoods around Forest Park in Queens, and for Tagalog and Serbo-Croatian visit Washington Heights and Astoria, respectively.
That’s the lay of the linguistic land according to Jill Hubley, a Brooklyn web developer who’s mapped New York’s tree species and toxic spills. Hubley’s latest project is a breakdown of the city’s languages, ranging from the tongues of African nations to Korean to Yiddish. Although you can include English (light blue) and Spanish (dark blue) in the count, it makes things looks a little boring:
So the default option excludes these common languages, revealing a much more vibrant mix of parlance:
Hubley built the map using data from the 2014 American Community Survey of the U.S. Census, which asks people if they speak languages other than English at home. It collects this information partly to create programs for non-English speakers and ensure they’re able to understand laws, voting procedures, and other things.
Even for native New Yorkers, some things might stand out, from the solitary Laotian-speaking community at the top of the Bronx to the Japanese enclave in eastern Staten Island to the appearance of Greek in all five boroughs. (If anyone can explain why Randall's Island is listed as Yiddish and Central Park as Vietnamese, you get a cookie.) There’s also the sheer preponderance of French-creole speakers, who dominate in large sections of Queens and Brooklyn—there are nearly 106,000 of these folks in the city, according to WNYC.