By Mark Wilson
The Census Bureau recognizes more than 1,300 different languages spoken among Americans. But by the time those languages are aggregated and averaged to statistically represent the population in the Census’s final report, they are simplified into just 42 language groupings. “Other languages of Asia” is a group that might represent Burmese, Karen, Turkish, and Uzbek. “Other Native languages of North America” could include Apache, Cherokee, Lakota, Tohono O’odham, and Yupik.
“The Endangered Language Alliance reported there are between 600 and 800 languages spoken just in NYC,” says Ekene Ijeoma, an artist and the founder and director of Poetic Justice at MIT Media Lab. “I think that says a lot about the limits of representation.”