Preserving languages, enriching cultures: scenes from the 2013 Smithsonian Folklife Festival
July 3, 2013 Leave a comment
There are more than 7,000 languages spoken in the world today. How many will there be one hundred years from now?
According to the Smithsonian Institution, half of the world’s languages may disappear during this century. How does a language ‘go extinct’? First, a language is considered vulnerable when it is spoken within families, but those families use another language to interact with their larger community. There is a definite threat if children no longer learn the language as a mother tongue. The threat is severe when the language is only spoken by older generations. At the critical stage, even the community elders speak the language infrequently. Finally, when there have been no speakers for the past fifty years, the language is considered extinct.
In the graphic at right, yellow dots represent vulnerable languages. Orange represents definite threat, red means severe threat, and maroon means critical threat. Grey dots represent languages that have gone extinct. The blue shading indicates areas of high linguistic diversity.
Languages are used to transmit culture, including information about cooking, crafts, dance, family, history, religion, cosmology, medicine, morality, and more. This information is threatened when a language’s survival is threatened. The Smithsonian Institution highlighted endangered languages this year at the 2013 Folklife Festival. (The festival also featured guest country Hungary and an exhibition on African-American diversity, style, and identity.) Participants in the One World, Many Voices exhibition demonstrated elements of their language, culture, identity, and experience, to “show how cultural and linguistic diversity enrich the world.”
Here are some scenes from the festival and the participants who demonstrated poetry, songs, stories, crafts, and art.