The Christian Science Monitor

Saving vanishing words: Why Queens is the ‘Noah’s Ark of languages’

Like many immigrants who live near the busy subway hub in Jackson Heights, Tenzin Namdol usually talks to her family and friends with a shape-shifting array of tongues. 

She’ll jump from colloquial Tibetan to standard English in the middle of a conversation almost without a thought, and then start speaking what she says has become a third hybrid of slang, combining the phonetics of both. She also speaks fluent Hindi, the language she prefers when hanging out in one of her Queens neighborhood’s famed local restaurants or one-of-a-kind shops.

Despite this easy fluency in a number of very different languages, Ms. Namdol becomes wistful when it comes to one she hasn’t quite mastered – the native tongue of her mother, whose people speak a rare Himalayan dialect called Mustangi.

There are only about 3,000 people left in the world who still speak Mustangi, and most live in a remote Himalayan region in western Nepal. But a few hundred or so of these speakers, including Ms. Namdol’s mother, now reside in the New York borough of Queens.

This also happens to be the most linguistically diverse neighborhood on earth, scholars say. With as many as 800 distinct languages,

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