This infographic was developed to show what languages are spoken in the areas above the subway. The data comes from the 2010 census and is based on zipcodes. You can view graphs by Line (1 to Z) or by Language. Hover over a point on any graph and a textbox will appear that displays the station name and the percentage of speakers of that Language at that station. To return to the master list, click on the site title, “Languages Above the Subway.”

One of the biggest take-aways from this project is that the ends of the lines show more linguistic diversity than the middle (i.e., more Russian, Haitian Creole, Greek and Arabic speakers live in the far ends of the outer boroughs than in Manhattan). This should come as no surprise since linguistic minorities tend to establish communities, with many families in one area. When the first families arrive, they have fewer housing options as a result of having fewer employment options, and in a place like New York City, where there’s an indirect relationship between commuting time and rent, cheaper housing is near the end of the line. Then, as future generations are born there, they may move throughout the city or to other parts of the country, but there is still a linguistic group established in that area. Of course, this is not a perfect correlation. Every line that goes through lower Manhattan shows a spike in Chinese, but Chinatown in Manhattan is a well established neighborhood even though it is centrally located. Similarly, the number of English speakers near Van Cortlandt Park is very high eventhough it’s the end of the line. Therefore, this is not an infographic about income or poverty, but rather about neighborhoods and concentrations. It would be fascinating to look at this over a 100 year span to see migration patterns and neighborhood change as well.

This site was built as my capstone project in the Interactive Technology and Pedagogy Certificate Program at the CUNY Graduate Center, where I am a PhD Candidate in Linguistics. My research focuses on how NYC low-literacy bilingual adolescents use digital devices for communication. My contact information is at the bottom if you have questions, comments or feedback about the site or my research.

Technical Information

A language was put on the graph if there were at least 3 stations where there was greater than 5% speakers. The graphs are ordered by Language based on how many lines that language has, and in the case of a tie, based on how many speakers there are in the city. The order is English, Spanish, Chinese, Russian, Yiddish, Haitian Creole, Italian, Greek, French, Korean, Arabic, Polish, Hebrew.

I chose to use zipcodes rather than census tracts, block groups, or any other division to give a sense of area. When a subway station was found on the border of two or more zip codes, they were averaged to find a simple mean. This is not the most precise way of looking at the data, but the most precise way may not have been any more precise given people’s mobility and different definitions about how close is “close” to any given subway station.

In the census data, there is no “Haitian Creole.” Rather, it is “French Creoles.” Since Haitian Creole is the overwhelming majority of French Creoles spoken in the city, this group is treated as Haitian Creole. Secondly, Haitian Creole goes under 3 different names: Haitian, Kreyòl (Creole), and Haitian Creole (Kreyòl ayisyen) Among speakers, there is little consensus as to how it is called, both in English and in Haitian Creole. Therefore, where space permits, the full name is used whereas when it is visually more appealing, one of the shorter varieties is used.

Likewise, French is a combination of French, Patois, and Cajun. This is indicated on the charts, but not in the links due to space considerations. Finally, smaller languages were not included. This data is available, but since I wanted to keep all of the graphs on the same scale so comparisons can be made, I did not include the smaller concentrations of languages. Nevertheless, there are significant pockets of communities throughout the city that are not recorded here either because they are not formally documented or there isn’t a large enough concentration of speakers. Finally, due to immigration and other issues, many speakers of languages other than English are not documented even though they contribute to making NYC the Multilingual, multicultural city that it is.

If you have any feedback, questions, or comments, please contact me at mjohnson2@gc.cuny.edu or visit my personal website.

-Michelle Johnson