Globalization101. org Unit: globalizaton and the languages in new york city: a case study developed by Professor Diane Paravazian

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Developed by Professor Diane Paravazian


This unit examines the role of languages in shaping New York City, which was established and continues to develop in an increasingly globalized world. Students are invited to consider the importance of the colonial period as the foundation for the city many consider to be the multilingual capital of the world.

Instructional Goals

Students understand the link between globalization and languages and explore how this link has defined New York City and languages in the past as well as in the present

Learning Outcomes

At the end of this lesson, students will be able to:

  1. Understand globalization in New York City’s past and present;

  2. Trace the history of the use of English in New York;

  3. Gain awareness that speakers of different languages or different versions of English may or may not understand the world in the same way;

  4. Understand the development of languages, pidgins and creoles;

  5. Appreciate the role of multilingualism in New York City and how it connects this city to the world, making it what many consider the multilingual capital of a globalized world.


"From English to Chinglish: The Globalization of Languages." July 23, 2008.

“Globalization and Languages in New York City: A Case Study.”

"Protecting Languages."

"Story of Samir Moussa, A Global Nomad."

The movie “Avatar” for the study of communication between speakers of different languages and intercultural communication




"What is Globalization?" Globalization101.

Time required

2-5 class periods, as instructors may use all or part of the curriculum


Before the first class, students should familiarize themselves with the Globalization101 website. They should read entries on the website pertaining to language as well as at least three other areas and bring to class information they consider important for New York City from both articles directly and indirectly related to language. They could read, for example, articles related to culture, business or human rights. They should study the definition of globalization on the website, formulate questions and prepare additional thoughts for class discussion. The instructor facilitates this process, helping students gain maximum benefits from the use of the website and the articles available at the time the unit is taught.

Relevant Globalization101 articles:

  • "From English to Chinglish: The Globalization of Languages." July 23, 2008.

  • "Protecting Languages."

  • "Story of Samir Moussa, A Global Nomad."

  • "What is Globalization?" Globalization101.

Class One

  • Students gather key ideas on globalization on the board;

  • Students confirm their understanding of globalization through class discussion and further group exploration of the Globalization 101 website;

  • Instructor facilitates discussion and prepares students for the reading of the article which accompanies this unit, with emphasis on globalization and languages prior to and at the time of the establishment of New Amsterdam. The preparation includes the following questions:

  1. How did the rise of Dutch and English competition for world dominance against the decline of the Spanish and Portuguese Empires contribute to the establishment of New Amsterdam?

  1. What was the relationship of the New Netherlands to the Spanish Empire and how did this influence New Amsterdam?

  1. How were the slave population in New Amsterdam and the group of Jewish settlers who came to New Amsterdam related to the Portuguese empire?

Students read the article “Globalization and Languages in New York City: A Case Study” in preparation for Class Two.

Class Two

Discuss the quote by Henry Hitchins from The Secret Life of Words.

“We seldom ask why we speak the language that we do, what we have in common with its other speakers, what its pedigree and career tell us about our ancestors, or what particular ways it has of framing our perceptions of the world. Perhaps we should.”

Begin by asking questions Hitchins asks:

  1. Why do we speak the language(s) that we speak in New York City? What is the history of the use of English in New York City?

  1. Discuss the diverse linguistic picture of New Amsterdam and the role of English, starting with Father Jogue’s famous quotation.

  1. How did people communicate in the Dutch and later, in the British colony? What implications does this have for the use and development of languages?

  1. What is a language as compared to pidgins and creoles?

  1. What is the relationship of languages, pidgins and creoles to globalization?


  1. Scenes from “Avatar” selected by the instructor or by students working in groups in which Jake attempts to communicate with the inhabitants of Pandora;

  • How does communication take place and what is the role of body language?

  • What meaning, words of the Navi language can be discerned from these scenes?

  1. Understanding the creation of pidgins: small groups of students speaking completely different languages simulate establishing trade and purchasing land as for example, the Dutch purchasing Manhattan from the Native Americans;

  1. The language in Avatar was created by a linguist.

  • Use the on-line glossary and establish essential mini version for “survival” communication, based on a scene from the movie

  • Show how thoughts are structured; distinguish between nouns, verbs, etc.
  • Create a scene or write a continuation of the above scene using English and Navi, as well as the basic dictionary and grammar compiled. The Web sites below are helpful for these activities:'vi_Language#A

  1. Discuss similarities of situations in “Avatar” and New York City’s colonial period

  1. Begin exploring the link between language and culture and the importance of understanding language and culture in a globalized world, using Globalization101.

Conclusion: Summarize the answers to the questions guiding Class Two, ending with the answer to question 5, the link of languages, their use, birth and decline, to globalization.

Class Three

This class delves deeper into aspects of communication in a globalized world, using the work Benjamin Whorf, Language, Thought and Reality: Selected Writings of B.L. Whorf, and selections from the work of E. Sapir, as well as objections by other linguists to some of their ideas, such as the danger of stereotyping cultures. Instructors can use the above work along with Language, Diversity and Thought: A Reformulation of the Linguistic Relativity Hypothesis by John Lucy to prepare for the discussion.

Questions for this class are:

  1. Do speakers of English see the world differently from speakers of other languages?

  2. Where else is English spoken in the world and why? How is this reflected in New York City’s English speakers?

  3. What do we have in common with the other speakers of English and why? What similarities and differences exist among various speakers of English in New York City?

Instructor introduces the work of Benjamin Whorf and E. Sapir’s work: strong and weak hypothesis and through examples and work with the speakers of languages other than English in the class, demonstrate differences in syntax and semantics which may suggest differences of perception in various languages. For example, objects are masculine or feminine in the Romance languages and have no gender in English; there are status markers in some languages.

According to the level of the class, instructor leads a discussion on the strong and weak hypotheses. (Selection of reading depends on the instructor, who may decide to keep the discussion at a non-technical level and provide the key information necessary.)


  1. Brainstorm examples for each:

Strong Hypothesis: Language largely determines the way we understand reality.

Weak Hypothesis: Language, thought and perception are interrelated.

  1. Discuss objections to the Whorf-Sapir hypotheses;

Lucy, John. Language, Diversity and Thought: A Reformulation of the Linguistic Relativity Hypothesis. New York: Press Syndicate of the University of Cambridge, 1992.

Class Four: Language and its relationship to business, power and media in New York City: In classes four and five, the role and work of students becomes more central as students are now more proficient in using the Web site and its resources. Areas explored in these two classes can be in the form of student research and presentations.

How did English become the language of the colony? Referring to the article and the sources cited, discuss this in relationship to business, power and the media.

What is the role of English in today’s New York City? Are there any other languages of business, power and media? Students bring examples to class.


The activities below can be group projects and presentations

  1. Investigate the disappearance of the Dutch language in New York and its replacement with English

  2. Identify the special qualities and the history of English which have made English today’s global language
  3. Are languages disappearing today and if so, where and why? Can languages be revived? Contact the Endangered Language Alliance, City University of New York, report on their work in reviving the Lenape language. Discuss the implications of the revival for New York City.

Hebrew as an example of a revived or revitalized language. What would the implication for New York City be as result of the revival of the Lenape language?

Class Five: Global language and languages: “Globish”

  1. Discuss the advantages and disadvantages of a global language

  2. Will English be replaced by languages which have a greater number of speakers like Mandarin?

  3. Discuss the advantages and disadvantages of multilingualism with specific examples in New York City.

McCrum, Robert. Globish: How the English Language Became the World’s Language. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2010.


  1. Find media examples of “Globish” and examine the effectiveness of communication in each one. Find business as well as political and cultural exchanges

  2. Non-verbal intercultural communication; find and discuss specific examples in New York City

Interview people who work in an international setting and present their views

Conclusion: class discussion or debate

This discussion or debate should be student-driven. The topic can vary according to the discussions and interests in a particular class.

Sample: Today’s multilingualism and use of English in New York City; advantages and disadvantages of an official language for the future of New York City.

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