Language, Identity, Worldview

Submitted By:
Cambridge Ridley Lynch, Ed.M Candidate, Klingenstein Center, New York, NY

Language City: The Fight to Preserve Endangered Mother Tongues in New York by Ross Perlin
Atlantic Monthly Press, February 20, 2024

Language City by Ross Perlin makes the reader feel smarter – not because it is full of endless, interesting facts (although it is), but because it models a kind of open-minded curiosity and wonder that should resonate with any educator. Perlin zooms in on modern-day New York City and reveals it as a haven for some of the most endangered languages in the world. Following six ordinary immigrants, we learn how language reflects and informs culture while also contemplating challenges like bringing the Lenape language back to its motherland or saving written Yiddish. Although useful in itself as a teaching tool in history, geography, civics, and social science classrooms, Perlin’s text is perhaps most valuable in how it situates language survival within the larger project of diversity and inclusion. Recognizing language as a core aspect of students’ identities – and understanding how it may quite literally structure their view of the world – is a valuable step in the creation of a culturally sensitive classroom. The fact that Language City instructs readers about complex linguistic concepts while also centering New York’s immigrant population and its incredible depth of knowledge, courage, and savvy is merely icing on the cake.

Teaching Practice