Thursday, January 24, 2013

United States of Languages: Mid-Atlantic

Yesterday we took a look at the linguistic diversity of New England. Today, we continue our trip farther south to the Mid-Atlantic region of the United States.

The Statue of Liberty
New York

New York State is one of the most linguistically diverse areas in the whole United States. Naturally, the most populous city in the entire country, New York City, is one of the main reasons for this diversity. Nearby Ellis Island is known for its historical importance as the gateway for immigrants to enter the country in the late 1800s and early 1900s. All those immigrants heading into New York City to start a new life in search of the American Dream certainly helped contribute to the area's linguistic diversity. 

New York is home to the largest populations of people of Puerto Rican, Dominican, Italian and Jamaican descent. There are also very large groups whose ancestors came from Italy, Ireland, Germany, and French Canada. As of 2000, only 72% of New Yorkers spoke only English at home. The leaves over a quarter of the state's population speaking other native languages! The Spanish-speaking population is constantly growing, with over 13.6% speaking it at home. Over 2% of New Yorkers speak Chinese, while nearly as many use Italian at home. Chances are, if you think of a language at random, around half a percent of New Yorkers speak it... which is still quite a large number of people. The very long list of languages spoken in the state includes Polish, Korean, Greek, and Tagalog.

Another popular language is Yiddish, with .6% of the population speaking the Germanic language. Over 60% of American Yiddish speakers reside in New York. They've clearly left an impact on American English with the introduction of words such as chutzpah and mensch. Sadly, nowadays most speakers of the language are elderly, as younger generations tend to speak more English instead.

Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania's second-largest city.
Pennsylvania

New York's southern neighbor is also linguistically diverse, albeit with far fewer people speaking languages besides English at home. Pennsylvania's second most popular language is Spanish, which is spoken by 3.1% of the population. There are around 70,000 Pennsylvanians who speak Italian and German as well. Another popular language is Vietnamese, with over 25,000 people speaking it at home.

Ever heard of Pennsylvania Dutch? Despite its misleading English name, Pennsylvania Dutch is actually a descendant of German, and refers to Deutsch, the German word for "German". It's a fine example of settlers sticking to their guns when it came to the language they spoke, and in some parts of Pennsylvania this dated form of German can still be heard. The Pennsylvania Dutch people, mainly German and Swiss immigrants, settled in the area in the 17th and 18th centuries. Their language is spoken in modern times by Old Order Amish and Mennonite communities. However, most people living in these religious communities are bilingual, and English is used more and more every year.

The New Jersey shore, without the natives.
New Jersey

Do you think you know about language in New Jersey? If you just said "Noo Joisey" in your head, shame on you! There is, of course, a Jersey accent and it is fairly distinct. Just don't let your opinion of the state be swayed by that horrible television show based around the Jersey Shore and the idea that the only redeeming quality of it that it is indeed by the sea and there's a possibility the cast may drown. New Jersey is actually the most densely populated state in the entire United States, with over 1,000 people per square mile. Most of them live in the areas closest to Philadelphia and New York City and commute each day to one of the two aforementioned states to work. 

New Jersey is exceptionally diverse. It boasts some of the largest populations of people of Peruvian, Cuban, Italian, Indian, Korean, Filipino, and Chinese descent in the entire country, in addition to having large Muslim and Jewish populations. Basically it's not packed with Christians of European descent, unlike many other parts of the country. There are many communities scattered throughout the state where languages besides English are spoken. The largest linguistic enclaves are home to speakers of Spanish, Italian, Polish, Gujarati, Hindi, Tagalog, Chinese, Korean, Telugu, Malayalam, Portuguese, Turkish, and Russian. There are plenty of other languages spoken by minorities in the state as well. 

Next week we'll be exploring the linguistic diversity of the Midwestern states!