Group in NYC Aims to Pass On Garifuna Language

It's estimated that as many as 800 languages are spoken in New York City. There are efforts to make sure one of them does not die. NY1's Erin Clarke filed the following report.

Every Saturday, Milton Guity teaches his native language, Garifuna, free of charge.

"I think it is our duty as parents to transmit the language," he said.

Garifuna originated on St. Vincent, in the Caribbean, a mix of languages indigenous to the Antilles islands, with influences from West Africa and Europe. The British exiled its native speakers in 1796 to an island off of Honduras. They later settled in Belize, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua.

"It is part of me, part of my identity, and I love to speak it," Guity said.

Today, it's estimated that 200,000 people, mainly in Central America, still speak the language, but the numbers are dwindling.

"Most of them are not situated in their traditional homeland, and most of the young people are shifting to majority languages like English or Spanish. Then, that language is at risk of going extinct within a few generations," said Teresa O'Neill, a linguist at the Endangered Language Alliance.

But some of the Garifuna living in the city are determined to pass on the language, creating interest among a younger generation.

"I really do want to know my native language. My parents are fluent, and they speak it to the family all the time," said Amani Clotter, a student in the Garifuna language class. "But the generation that was born here in New York, we don't know Garifuna at all."

Teofilio Colon Jr., who also takes Milton Guity's class, said it was time to learn the language after a friend asked him questions about his native Honduras that he couldn't answer.

"It was at that point where I was like, 'Look, I don't ever want to be in that position again where I can't say something substantive about my people, my culture,'" he said.

Colon Jr. began doing research and soon started the website beinggarifuna.com.

"I try to encourage people my age and younger to appreciate all the different aspects of the culture," he said.

Experts who work to document and preserve lesser-known languages say efforts like these might just help Garifuna survive.

Charter Spectrum customers get full access
to all our video, including our live stream.
 

Tune to Spectrum New NY1 on TV, online, online, or on Local On Demand Channel 1020 for:

Road to City Hall, Mon.-Fri. at 7pm and 10pm
In Focus with Cheryl Wills, Sun. at 10:30am & 3:30pm
• On Stage, Sat.-Sun. 9:30am & 7:30pm + Tues. 12:30am
Sports on 1, nightly at 11:35pm and 4am