Linguistic Diversity

I have been researching, writing, and speaking about linguistic diversity and language endangerment since 2006. 

At the current unprecedented rate of language shift, a significant portion of the world's cultural and linguistic diversity will disappear over the next century. The active suppression, stamping out, and shaming into silence of so many languages should be understood as a question of justice and human rights, because the powerful, over and over again, impose their words on the powerless. At the heart of linguistics is a radical premise: all languages are equal. Every grammar is equally complex, logical, and capable of producing an infinite set of sentences to express any thought one might wish to express.

Since 2013, I have been Co-Director of the Endangered Language Alliance, a non-profit based in New York with a mission to document endangered languages and support linguistic diversity. I have done linguistic fieldwork in partnership with communities in China, Tajikistan, Nepal, and New York City.

My book Language City: The Fight to Preserve Endangered Mother Tongues in New York, out in February 2024, is about this work.

Sample Recordings


For my PhD, I worked to document Trung (Dulong, 独龙) (IPA: təruŋ, ISO: duu), a Tibeto-Burman language of the Nungish group, spoken by fewer than 7000 people, primarily in the Gongshan Nu and Dulong Autonomous County, in the far northwest of Yunnan Province. Fieldwork between 2006 and 2011 resulted in ~150 audio and video recordings, including dozens of traditional stories, narratives, songs, and conversations, many of which were translated and/or annotated and all of which were deposited with at the Endangered Language Archive, along with a 4,000+ entry trilingual Tvrung kvt cv'tyeng (Concise Trung-English-Chinese Dictionary, 简明独龙语英语汉语词典), which I edited together with the Trung Dictionary Committee. My grammar of Dulong (Trung) served as my PhD dissertation at the University of Bern, defended in 2017 and published in 2019 by Himalayan Linguistics.

In 2018, as a National Geographic Explorer, I was Principal Investigator of "The Other Roof of the World" focused on Pamiri languages of Tajikistan. Working together with ELA Senior Researcher Husniya Khujamyorova and videographer Nicole Galpern, we recorded interviews with 70 speakers of 11 languages and dialects, totaling 35+ hours of high-quality video and including personal histories, songs, migration stories, local environmental knowledge, folklore, and more.

Beginning with a Columbia fields methods class in 2018 I taught together with speaker Rasmina Gurung, I have been researching Seke, an endangered and little-documented Tibeto-Burman language of Mustang, Nepal with ~700 speakers, of whom over 150 are estimated to be in New York. Following fieldwork in Mustang in 2019, we have been assembling, transcribing, and translating an annotated corpus of Seke materials, supported by a National Endowment for the Humanities DLI-DEL Fellowship.

I have coordinated or led projects with colleagues including Voices of the Himalaya, Songs and Singers of the Himalaya, Ladino New York, and Mapping Linguistic Diversity. I edited ELA's Languages of New York City map, for which the print version was released in 2019 and the digital version in 2021.

Major project support has come from the Endangered Languages Documentation Programme, Himalayan Languages Project, Firebird Foundation, New York Foundation for the Arts, National Geographic, National Endowment for the Humanities, Gardiner Foundation, and Café Royal Cultural Foundation, and an American Council of Learned Societies/Luce Foundation Fellowship.

Selected Publications

2023. With Daniel Kaufman. “Indigenous Languaes Between Erasure and Disinvention”. In Lydia Liu and Anupama Rao (eds.) with Charlotte Silverman, Global Language Justice. New York: Columbia University Press, 166-193.

2023. With Daniel Kaufman, Habib Borjian, and Husniya Khujamyorova. "Wakhi in New York: Multilingualism and Language Contact in a Pamiri Diaspora Community". In Anousha Sedighi (ed.), The Mouton Handbook of Iranian Heritage Languages and Multilingualism. Berlin: De Gruyter Mouton, 273-303.

2021. With Daniel Kaufman, Mark Turin, Maya Daurio, Sienna Craig, and Jason Lampel. "Mapping Urban Linguistic Diversity in New York City: Motives, Methods, Tools, and Outcomes", Language Documentation and Conservation. Vol. 15, 458-490.

2021. With Daniel Kaufman, Jason Lampel, Maya Daurio, Mark Turin, Sienna Craig, eds., Languages of New York City (digital version), map. New York: Endangered Language Alliance. (Available online at

2020. With Daniel Kaufman. Languages of New York City (3rd edition), map. New York: Endangered Language Alliance.

2019. "A Grammar of Trung," Himalayan Linguistics, Vol. 18, Issue 2.

2018. With Daniel Kaufman, "Language Documentation in Diaspora Communities". In Lyle Campbell and Kenneth Rehg (eds.), Oxford Handbook of Endangered Languages, New York: Oxford University Press.

2018. With Nawang Gurung, Daniel Kaufman, Sienna Craig, and Mark Turin. "Orality and Mobility: Documenting Himalayan Voices in New York", Verge: Studies in Global Asias vol. 4, no. 2, 2018, 64–80.

2016. "The Race to Save a Dying Language", Guardian, August 17.

2015. With Habib Borjian. "Bukhori in New York", CAHIER DE STUDIA IRANICA 57, 15-27. 

2014. "Endangered Speakers", n+1, Issue 20.

2013. "The documentary linguist as facilitator: The view from Trung (Dulong)", Presentation at the 3rd International Conference on Language Documentation and Conservation (ICLDC), February 28-March 3, 2013 at the University of Hawai'i at Mānoa.

2013. "Language Death by Committee? The View From China", Poster at the Linguistic Society of America.

2013. "Tone Poem" (How to Read the Dictionary of an Endangered Language), Harper’s, August.

2012. "Review of WeSay, A Tool for Collaborating on Dictionaries with Non-Linguists", Language Documentation & Conservation, Vol. 6. 

2009. "Language Attitudes of the T'rung." Linguistics of the Tibeto-Burman Area, 32.1, April.

Last updated: 7 March 2024