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New York State History, Language and Culture

History of New York State

New York has a fascinating history, not least because it was once the capital of the USA. Before that, however, Native American tribes called the region home. The area was colonised early on, when Henry Hudson claimed New York for the Dutch in 1609. In 1624 the Dutch established lower New York State as New Netherlands. They traded actively with the Native Americans throughout the 17th century and ruled the colony, then called “New Netherland” until 1664, when it was conquered by the British who then took over the area and named it New York after the Duke of York.  Just over a century later, in 1776, New York declared its independence, making it one of the original 13 states of the union. 

New York has played a central role in much of the nation's history. It was the site of the first major battle of the Revolutionary War and at least one-third of that war's battles were fought here. It was the birthplace or home of many of the fathers of the new nation; it was a centre for debate and activism related to the abolition and suffrage movements; and it was the primary port of call for immigrants arriving to the US in the 19th century and beyond.

New York is often associated with the Statue of Liberty, which was gifted from France to the USA and erected in the New York Harbour in 1886. During this time millions of European immigrants entered New York’s waters and the statue became an American symbol of freedom. In this age of immigration, New York City in particular became a multicultural hub and the standout example of the US's “melting pot” demographics.

New York City has also been significant in global history. Many trends –political, financial, and cultural – are born in New York, and its position as a world centre of commerce remains unshaken by the horrific 2001 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center which killed nearly 3,000. Today, construction of the Freedom Tower, a memorial to victims of the attack, is underway.

New York State Culture

Religion in New York State

Catholics represent 40% of New York's population, while 30% of New Yorkers identify as Protestant. Smaller Jewish and Muslim minorities comprise 8.5 and 3.5% of the population, respectively. Approximately 13% of New Yorkers say they have no religious affiliation.

Social Conventions in New York State

While visitors' perceptions of New York State may be that of a liberal state, keep in mind that that perception is shaped primarily by and about New York City. It is often forgotten that there is more to New York State than the New York metropolitan area, where because of their heavy accents and fast-paced lifestyle downstate New Yorkers are prone to being stereotyped as abrasive, loud and snobbish.

Though they are not an insignificant part of the state's population (indeed, they number more than 8 million of the state's 19.5 million residents), they are also not representative of the larger norm. Practices, behaviours, and forms of dress and speech that are perfectly acceptable in New York City may be considered inappropriate in other parts of the state.

Outside of New York City, it is generally considered impolite to discuss religious or political beliefs among acquaintances. People meeting for the first time typically shake hands rather than kiss or embrace. Outside of the city New Yorkers are known for their friendliness.

From downstate to upstate, New York has a very diverse population. Because of the myriad cultures and religions New York possesses an eclectic mix of social conventions, but while cultural diversity is visible in other parts of the state, it is not as evident as in New York City.

Language in New York State

The official language of New York is English. Many New Yorkers, particularly in New York City, may speak another language (or languages) as a primary or acquired language. Spanish is the second most-prevalent language spoken in the state, though Mandarin Chinese is rapidly increasing. More than 140 languages are spoken in New York City, where 46% of the population speaks a language other than English at home.

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