This is a new Smithsonian Program that promises very useful use of the extensive Smithsonian collections and archives, as it intends to promote language revitalization through documentation, collection based projects and community collaboration. It has been inspired by projects based on some of the thousands of language recordings in the Smithsonian National Anthropological Archives at NMNH, yet also by the Sharing Knowledge project I studied in Alaska.
As we all can experience when expressing ourselves in other languages than our mother-tongue language is essential to our human experience. In my research on Rapa Nui in the Pacific I learned how the colonial history of national integration and minority language discrimination had repeated itself there too, just like with the Sami in my own country and so many other peoples elsewhere. And despite language immersion programs and the ease of communication today languages keep disappearing at an alarming rate. Just take a look at UNESCO’s atlas of endangered languages.
A museum might not be the first place language activists will look to, but institutions like the Smithsonian sit on masses of language documentation in the form of recording and writings –and as discovered by the Alaska project there are forgotten words hidden in objects that can be remembered when community members visit ethnographic collections.
The program is a collaboration between the National Museum of Natural History (NMNH), the National Museum of the American Indian (NMAI) and the Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage (CFCH). And as the program is just starting up it doesn’t have its own website yet, but that’s in the making and at the moment more information can be found in this brochure recently published by the NMNH. Googling the program currently gives these links.
And by talking to the researchers involved I hope to learn more about the planning of Recovering Voices during my time in DC.