If you were presented with a short article that had been written by a robot, would you be able to tell? This is just one of the many fascinating ideas you can explore while visiting a new crop of language museums around the world.There are already lots of museums which, by presenting their exhibits in minority languages, take on a secondary role of pulling language to the forefront.
But the following language museums are taking more than a passive role in promoting an interest in language. They actively explore the linguistic concepts that weigh on the minds of today’s movers and shakers. They take these heady concepts and bring them down to a palatable level for museum-goers to digest. And by doing so, they make learning about language absolutely enjoyable.These include concepts like
1. Whether apps help or hurt our ability to spell
2. The impact of legislation on language learning
3. The meaning of rhetoric
4. How language can help people see eye-to-eye
5. How to preserve a language
6. The way you experience ‘time’ shows up in the language that you speak
7. Where in the world you can say “no” by throwing your head back
Through interactive displays, hands-on experiences, and even a few opportunities to participate in some on-site language studies, the following museums are actively and directly promoting a public interest in language.
Language Museums Around the World
In the United States, there’s the National Museum of Language in Maryland. Heavy on outreach with a series of movable exhibits available on loan, they’re currently in development. For the time being, there’s a great online exhibit featuring fascinating highlights of dialect research.
Moving up the coast and slightly inland, there’s the Canadian Language Museum. Canadians, of course, are keenly aware of how language is heavily imbued with cultural and political meaning. The English/French duality of Canadian culture presents endless opportunity for exploration at this museum, as do the native American languages still spoken throughout Canada.
There’s also the Dutch Museum of Languages in Leiden, a city made famous by its preponderance of ‘wall poems’. The museum is intentionally small, espousing the model of the small-scale museum as a more sustainable way of developing and maintaining a public institution.
Brazil also represents well in this area with their Museu da Língua Portuguesa in Sao Paolo. Theirs is partly a global mission, to promote exchanges between Portuguese speakers spread across the world. There’s a bit of irony here since unless you read Portuguese, the museum’s website is sadly deficient. If it weren’t for Google Translate, the interior pages, including the blog, would not be accessible to anyone but a Portuguese speaker. I guess that’s one way to promote a language!
Wortreich in Germany takes a slightly more technical approach for some of their language exhibits with a focus on the language of binary code.
Planet Word is coming soon (in May 2020) in the US and has a particularly pointed and timely mission: to keep Democracy alive. By promoting an interest in language (and reading), the founders hope to raise literacy rates in the United States. Without literacy, people have trouble discerning so-called “fake news” and votes can be swayed.
Finally, here at home, the MEITS project will run a pop-up Museum of Languages. Designed to promote multilingualism, it will first be appearing in Cambridge, Nottingham, Edinburgh, and Belfast in 2019.
2019 promises to be an exciting year if you’re a language geek. With at least 2 language museums set to open, we all have new items for our bucket lists. But more importantly, we have multiple new contexts from which to explore our languages, our cultures, our politics, and our futures. Set against a backdrop of changing politics and clashing cultures, the timing couldn’t be better.