There are hundreds of languages spoken in the New York metro area, and while English still tops the charts being spoken by almost 65% of the population, the rich history of immigration on the east coast of the United States has resulted in a wide variety of nearly 800 native tongues being heard in New York. Respondents to surveys conducted by the Census Bureau indicated which language was spoken most often in the home, with English in the forefront, followed by Spanish and Chinese in the top three. These are the six most commonly spoken languages in the New York metro area, according to census data.
About 65% of New Yorkers speak English at home, and it is the most common language in many neighborhoods, due to America being colonized by English speakers more than 400 years ago. While the language has evolved in the US and taken on roots, influences, and nuances of its own, it still stems from its British settlers in the 1600s and is the most prominent language in the United States with more than 239 million speakers.
Spanish falls into second place with almost 20% of New York area residents speaking the language at home, though like English it has taken a few twists and turns. In New York, the Spanish tongue has been influenced by dialects from Mexico, Cuba, Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, and Ecuador, resulting in a somewhat hybrid form of the language as immigrants have adapted to their new surroundings. English has also played a role in changing the way Spanish is spoken, often peppering the language with pronouns, which are often omitted in its natural form.
In Manhattan, just above West Village, a neighborhood known as Little Spain has served as a social and cultural hub for Spanish immigrants in the city. There are also Spanish-speaking communities in the South Bronx, the Lower East Side, Brooklyn, Queens, and Spanish Harlem.
Chinese-speaking immigrants can be found scattered throughout New York, but are found mainly in the Queens neighborhood of Flushing, where many recent immigrants have landed, as well as Chinatown in Manhattan. In Flushing, the most often heard Chinese dialect is Mandarin, whereas in Chinatown people tend to speak Cantonese and Fuzhounese, largely based on where new citizens herald from (Mandarin is spoken more in northern China, while Cantonese and Fuzhounese are of the south).
There are regions of New York dominated by Russian speakers, even though the language is only spoken in 1.35% of homes. The most renowned Russian neighborhood is Brighton Beach in Brooklyn, which was a popular landing place for Jewish Russians in the 1970s, though there are high numbers in Riverdale and Pelham Parkway (in the Bronx) as well. At Brighton Beach, the Russian culture and language is so predominant English is often viewed as the foreign language by its residents.
There are some 445 Indo-European languages spoken around the world, which include English, Spanish, and Russian, but also Hindi, Portuguese, Bengali, Punjabi, German, French, Marathi, Italian, Greek and Persian among many others. With 1.31% of homes speaking Indo-European languages that do not appear elsewhere in the list, the prevalence of these tongues points to the history of immigration from Europe to the east coast of the United States.
With 1.2% of households speaking Italian most often at home, the language claims the number-six spot for top languages spoken in the New York metro area, though the number of true Italian neighborhoods appears to be on the decline. Little Italy and Arthur Avenue in the Bronx are still predominantly Italian, while boroughs that used to be made up of Italian communities like Brooklyn have seen a decline in their Italian population. Today, most Italian speakers can be found in Throgs Neck, Staten Island, and Italian Harlem.
Language in the Big Apple
With a population of nearly 20 million and more than 400 years of history, especially a long history of immigration of people from around the world, it's no surprise the New York metro area is home to native speakers of more than 800 languages. Its neighborhoods and communities take pride in their unique culture and heritage, with a rich history of migration and adaptation heard through the varying tongues of its people.