WASHINGTON, D.C. | The United Nation’s Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) estimates that of the more than 7,000 languages in the world, nearly half of them are in danger of becoming extinct by the end of this century.
The Smithsonian’s Folklife Festival program “One World, Many Voices: Endangered Languages and Cultural Heritage” will focus attention on this urgent issue of global language loss by bringing together communities from around the world that are fighting to save their native tongues and cultural traditions.
“One World, Many Voices” is produced in collaboration with UNESCO, the National Geographic Society’s Enduring Voices Project and the Smithsonian’s Recovering Voices Initiative.
The Festival will be held Wednesday, June 26, through Sunday, June 30, and Wednesday, July 3, through Sunday, July 7, outdoors on the National Mall between Seventh and 14th streets. All events are free. Festival hours are from 11 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. each day with evening events such as concerts and dance parties beginning at 6 p.m. The Festival is co-sponsored by the National Park Service.
“Language is a vital part of our human heritage and it is important to the culture and history of the people that speak it,” said program co-curator Marjorie Hunt. “The F\festival provides a powerful platform for speakers of different languages to share their cultures and worldview with a large public audience on the National Mall.”
Hunt is co-curating the program with K. David Harrison, professor of linguistics at Swarthmore College, and author of When Languages Die. Harrison has spent his career documenting and helping to revitalize languages.
Festival visitors will get the chance to hear and learn from participants representing 15 cultures working to preserve their languages. Musicians, storytellers, singers, dancers, poets, culinary experts, and craftspeople will share how language embodies cultural knowledge, identity, values, technologies and arts. The program will include performances, craft demonstrations, interactive discussion sessions, community celebrations and hands-on family activities.
Native Hawaiians will demonstrate hula and discuss the role language has played in passing down the dance to the next generation. Native Americans from the Maine’s Passamaquoddy tribe will demonstrate how basket weaving is used to keep language alive, while participants from the Confederated Tribes of Siletz Indians in Oregon will perform the traditional Feather Dance and discuss how an online talking dictionary is helping to revitalize the tribes’ language.
Indigenous groups from Colombia—including the Wayuu, Palenque and Kamsá—will demonstrate native crafts, music and poetry while the Koro people of India will build bamboo spirit houses and share with visitors how they help ensure a good harvest.
Internationally known Klezmer pioneer Michael Alpert will perform for visitors during the Festival.
Major support for “One World, Many Voices: Endangered Languages and Cultural Heritage” is provided by the Dr. Frederik Paulsen Foundation, the Microsoft Local Language Program, the Embassy of Colombia in Washington, D.C., the Ministry of Culture of Colombia, the Caro y Cuervo Institute, the U.S. State Department Fund for Innovation in Public Diplomacy, the United States Embassy in Bolivia, the Inter-American Foundation, the Hawaii Tourism Authority, the University of Hawaii System and the Office of Hawaiian Affairs.
The Smithsonian Folklife Festival will feature three programs. In addition to “One World, Many Voices: Endangered Languages and Cultural Heritage,” the programs are “Hungarian Heritage: Roots to Revival” and “The Will to Adorn: African American Diversity, Style, and Identity.” The Folklife Festival, inaugurated in 1967, honors people from across the United States and around the world. With approximately 1 million visitors each year, the Festival unites presenters and performers in the nation’s capital to celebrate the diversity of cultural traditions. It is produced by the Smithsonian’s Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage.