The Rich Diversity of New York

Updated: Mar 9, 2020

New York is the largest city in America, with over 8.5 million inhabitants. That’s more than twice the size of America’s second largest city, Los Angeles. In density, that translates into 27,000 people per square mile, though that is the average for the entire 5 boroughs. In Manhattan alone, borough of 1.5 million, the density is 72,000 per square mile. One in 37 Americans is a New Yorker. A New Yorker is born every 4.4 minutes, though every 9.1 minutes a New Yorker dies.

More than 3 million New Yorkers were born overseas. When you consider how many citizens here were born in other parts of the country, the non native population is well over 50%.

There are 800 languages are spoken here, making it the most linguistically diverse city in the world. Many of those are close to extinction, and our City University has a graduate program in its Linguistics department called the Endangered Languages Initiative. Locals says there are 167 languages spoken in the Queens of neighborhood Jackson Heights alone. Fully half of New Yorkers speak a language other than English in their homes.

There are parts of the city where, if one eats at a local restaurant or you go shopping, it is hard to find people who speak English. In our 3 Chinatowns, this is very often the case, as many of these immigrants are recent arrivals. There are West Indian and Haitian neighborhoods where, due to local expressions and pronunciation, the English is hard to recognize.

This language diversity is ironic for a city renown for its own local accent, which has been popularized many times over due in films and television. Word like tawk ( talk) , cawfee (coffee), tree ( three) , rivva ( river ) feah (fear) and dat (that) are but a few examples of

New Yorkese, which non New Yorkers think of as comical, but the accent persists.

One often sees the language phenomenon of a changing neighborhood, where an area rapidly becomes popular with a particular national or ethnic group. Immediately surrounding one of the city’s ,and America’s, most iconic buildings - the Empire State building - is Manhattan’s Koreatown, which only sprouted up in the 1970s. It has over 150 Korean owned businesses of all stripes as well as a growing residential presence. Walking down these blocks feels like downtown Seoul. There is also a large Korean population in Queens, where there were more than 65,000 Koreans have settled ( 2010 census) since the 1980s.

Neighborhoods that were rich enclaves of one national group, will evolve into the refuge of another country. Manhattan’s East Village , once built up with tenement apartments, went from being a largely German neighborhood, to Russian/Ukrainian/East European, to Hispanic. Today the mix is mostly the young and hip, as well as many poorer citizens in its large housing projects.

It’s interesting to see that certain trades can become the province of New Yorkers of a particular land. In Brooklyn, many of the companies which restore our brownstone facades are Bangladeshis. Any woman who has their nails done in the city will tell you that this business is 90% Korean. News stands, a dwindling phenomenon but still here, are largely run by Indians or Pakistanis.

New York has the largest Chinese population in a city outside of Asia. We have 3 large Chinatowns in Manhattan, Brooklyn and Queens. There are more Hispanics here, 2.4 million, than in any other U.S city. There are far more Jews in New York than in Tel Aviv. There are over 250,00 Pakistanis living in the city, and more than 200,000 Indian Americans live in New York City. The Manhattan neighborhood of Murray Hill is also known as

Curry Hill.

You can safely assume that if you are looking for any language, current on soon to disappear, and any national group, you will find them in New York. It’s no coincidence that the headquarters of the United Nations is here.

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