Smithsonian Folklife Festival Showcases Vanishing Languages

by Brandon Goldner

July 05, 2013


WASHINGTON — The U.S.Smithsonian Institution reports that more than 2,500 world languages willdisappear by the end of this century. That is why the world’s largest museumand research complex dedicated part of its annual folklife festival to shine alight on these languages.


As soon as she heard the music, festivalgoer Patricia Joseph knew she had to dance.


"I always felt like dancing when Iheard this kind of music, and I always felt restrained. But this was soliberating. This is such an unusual venue that we’re going to spend most of theday here,” said Joseph.


The song is unusual, too, It’s sung in alanguage that is slowly disappearing.


It's all part of the Smithsonian FolklifeFestival, an annual celebration of world cultures on the National Mall in Washington, D.C.


One focus this year is on some of languagesfrom around the globe that are expected to vanish. The different languagerepresentatives used a variety of art forms to express their native tongues.This includes the fast-paced music of the Quechua language from South America,the throat singing of the Tuvan language in Siberia,and the iconic dancing of the Hawaiian language.


Aaron Sala is one of the musicians for thedisappearing Hawaiian language. "It’s a great experience to be with othercultures who are working to preserve and to ensure the survival and thriving oftheir languages," he said.


Representatives of these cultures, however,aren’t merely working to stimulate the auditory senses. Besides music, thefestival has many authentic cultural artifacts, like a Colombian ricegrinder. 


Maryland native Elisabeth Ostler said this festival, with its artifacts andmusic, allows Americans like herself to learn about the different culturesaround the world.


"Generally speaking, we’re prettyisolated to different cultures. There’s so much to be appreciated andexperienced," she said.


Ostler hopes young people like her sevenchildren will be inspired by the festival, and will want to make a differencein the world.