Endangered Languages and Cultural Heritage at the 2013 Smithsonian Folklife Festival

One World, Many Voices

Of the nearly 7,000 languages spoken in the world today—many of them unrecorded—up to half may disappear in this century. As languages vanish, communities lose a wealth of knowledge about history, culture, the natural environment, and the human mind.


The One World, Many Voices: Endangered Languages and Cultural Heritage program at the 2013 Smithsonian Folklife Festival will highlight language diversity as a vital part of our human heritage. Cultural experts from communities around the world will demonstrate how their ancestral tongues embody cultural knowledge, identity, values, technologies, and arts.

Through performances, craft demonstrations, interactive discussion sessions, community celebrations, and hands-on educational activities, highly skilled musicians, storytellers, singers, dancers, craftspeople, language educators, and other cultural practitioners will come together on the National Mall to share their artistry, knowledge, and traditions; to discuss the meaning and value of their languages to their cultural heritage and ways of life; and to address the challenges they face in maintaining the vitality of their languages in today’s world.

ImageFestival visitors will be able to talk with Kalmyk epic singers and Tuvan stone carvers from Russia, Koro rice farmers from India, Passamaquoddy basketmakers from Maine, Kallawaya medicinal healers and textile artists from Bolivia, Garifuna drummers and dancers from Los Angeles and New York, and many others.

When a language disappears, unique ways of knowing, understanding, and experiencing the world are lost forever. The expert culture bearers participating in the One World, Many Voices program will richly illustrate these different ways of knowing and show how cultural and language diversity enrich the world.

The One World, Many Voices program is produced by the Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage in collaboration with UNESCO, the National Geographic Society’s Enduring Voices Project, and the Smithsonian’s Recovering Voices Initiative.

2013 Festival Schedule

47th Annual Smithsonian Folklife Festival on the National Mall,

Washington D.C., USA.

June 26-June 30 and July 3-July 7, 2013

Open daily 11 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.
Evening events 5:30 p.m.

A full schedule will be available in June 2013.


Mapudungun poetry by María Inés Huenuñir Antihuala


Great news! We are organizing our first-ever media skills workshop for speakers of Latin American endangered languages. It will take place in Chile in January 2013. One our invited participants is language activist María Inés Huenuñir Antihuala (pictured above, on the left).

Maria is a Mapuche teacher and poet who writes beautiful bilingual poetry in Mapudungun and Spanish. Here is an example of one of her bilingual poems, “Mapuche Domo” with the English translation by Living Tongues researcher Anna Luisa Daigneault. If you are a Mapudungun or Spanish speaker and see ways to improve the English translation, please leave us a comment. Thanks! A video recording of the poem can also be viewed below.


Weñankley kiñe domo,
kiñe Mapuche ñuke,
kisu ka lelikeyantu
lelikey ximiñ pun
tukunefi, kisu ñi kupam meu
welu kume tukukey.
Ñi xapelakucha kañi xariloyko
amun rellmu felekey ñi chape
ka kiñe kelu xariwe tukunekey,
pa yomillkey ñi age yewekelu.
Wellu kume kidaukey
cheu ñi amun amukey
kisu ni sungu yengu
Mapuche ñuke.
Amun manke reke feleaimi
fey ta yewekelay ñi kurigen
kume uxapralekey wente escudo mev
eimi niemi kume piuke.
kume molfiñ
poyeneimi kom mi puke puñeñ
amuaimi emi mi lelfiñ mev
kiñe koskilla rayen elumeaimi
chaltumai ñuke.


Triste suspira una mujer,
es una mujer Mapuche,
ella también puede ver,
luz de día, oscuridad de noche.
La oscuridad se asemeja
a lo oscuro de su ropa
y aunque triste ella maneja,
sus lindas joyas de plata.
Cintas de colores, en sus trenzas,
lleva una roja faja también
ya ¡No quiere más ofensas!
ella trabaja muy bien.
Se acompleja por su piel oscura,
se siente falta de comprensión,
pero quiere defender su cultura,
llevar su costumbre por tradición.
Mujer Mapuche, ¡has como el condor!
él, pese a su plumaje oscuro
se siente feliz y con gran honor,
orgulloso se luce sobre el escudo.
Tú tienes corazón sincero y tierno
que rebosa de sangre pura,
mujer de cariño eterno…
proteges a tus hijos con gran ternura.
Amada madre ¡no te sientas mal!
vive tranquila, con serenidad
allá, siempre cerca de lo natural,
te daré un copihue, gracias a tu bondad


The sad sigh of a woman,
she is a Mapuche woman.
She can see both
the light of day, the dark of night.
The darkness blends
with the dark color of her clothes.
Although she is sad, she proudly wears
her beautiful silver jewelry.
Laces of all colors, in her braids,
she wears a red belt as well.
She wants no more insults!
She works so hard.
Troubled by her dark skin,
No one understands her.
But she wants to defend her culture,
Carry on with her traditional customs.
Mapuche woman, be like the condor!
Despite his dark feathers,
He feels happiness and great honor
He shines proudly on the coat of arms.
You have a sincere and tender heart
That overflows with pure blood
Woman of eternal tenderness
Protect your children with great care!
Beloved mother, don’t be hard on yourself!
Live peacefully, with serenity
There, near the natural world
I will give you a kopiwe flower
To thank you for your kindness

Stolen Tongues

BODY OF WORDS summer guest blog series, post 1.

by Allison Taylor-Adams

One isn’t born with feelings of shame and a lack of self-confidence about one’s language.  Where do they come from?[i]

All languages change.  Every language spoken today is the daughter of some now silent ancestor, related but different.  Languages morph, split, and combine; they ebb and flow.  Some languages come to prominence for a time and slowly fade, while others are only ever spoken by a tight-knit few and then slip away.

Languages have a natural life cycle, which sometimes ends in death.  Linguists and language activists accept this.  What we can’t accept is the unprecedented, unwarranted and completely unnatural rate of extinction of the languages currently spoken on our earth.  It is simply not the case that thousands of languages are in danger of annihilation because of slow evolution, expediency, or speakers’ choices.  Instead, the current crisis we are facing stems from widespread and deliberate policies of linguistic extermination.

Because languages are such strong representatives and repositories of cultural and community identity, they have historically been targeted for destruction in the name of “assimilation.”

*               *                  *

As white American settlers pushed further into Native American lands throughout the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, the young American government instituted a series of policies to deal with the communities that stood in the way.  “Indian removal” and forced resettlement on reservations uprooted the indigenous from their lands.  But missionaries, government officials, and self-styled philanthropists also saw the need to “civilize” the Native Americans, whom they saw as wild, backwards people, and so Bible translations and education programs were undertaken with fervor.  In many cases, these policies uprooted the indigenous from their cultures.

The Carlisle Indian Industrial School (1879-1918) was a boarding school for American Indian children in Carlisle, Pennsylvania. It was the first off-reservation boarding school.

The most demonstrative of these cases is the development of the off reservation boarding school.  The first of these schools was founded in 1879 by an Army officer who famously proclaimed, “Kill the Indian…save the man.”  The objective of these schools was to save the Indians from themselves; that is, from their Indian-ness.  A Bureau of Indian Affairs agent stressed in his report about the Ute Indians in Utah and Colorado in 1886 that there were a “number of handsome, bright-eyed children here, typical little savages…their faces hideously painted, growing up in all the barbarism of their parents.”  The only hope for these people was to take these little children by the hand, to care for and to nurture them, and to turn them into “refined, cultured, educated being[s]”.[ii]  The BIA agreed.

Upon arrival at boarding school, Native American children were forced to cut their long braids, give up their traditional clothing, and – importantly – to stop speaking their languages.  Even seemingly superficial modifications proved difficult.  Children and teachers alike were bewildered by the process of selecting “Christian” names, and haircutting often inspired resistance, truancy, and once, at the Pine Ridge Boarding School, a “mad flight” out of the building and towards home.[iii]  Eliminating the languages was far trickier.  Children naturally spoke with one another in their mother tongues. Certainly most, if not all, of the first arrivals to these schools knew not one word of English.  One can imagine the compounding trauma these children must have endured, having just been sent away from home, stripped of their clothing and their long hair, now being taught and cajoled and threatened in a completely alien language. “Speaking Indian” became a punishable offense.

*               *                  *

“Teaching an Indian youth in his own barbarous dialect is a positive detriment to him.  The first step to be taken toward civilization…is to teach them the English language.” -Commissioner of Indian Affairs John D.C. Atkins[iv]

In his provocatively titled book, Education for Extinction: American Indians and the Boarding School Experience, David Wallace Adams is careful to point out that “ ‘abusive language, ridicule, corporal punishment, or any other cruel or degrading measures’” were expressly prohibited by the Rules for the Indian School Service.[v]  The gap between policy and practice, however, was wide and destructive.

Students who dared to speak one of their languages were made to brush their teeth with lye until their mouths were raw.  Others were forced to use soap, as if the native words were so filthy that the children needed to be cleansed of them.  One former boarding school student said that “Whenever I speak Tlingit, I can still taste the soap.”[vi]  Some students fared even worse.  A former boarding school teacher reminisces in her memoirs about laying thirty-five kindergarteners – “like little sardines” she says – across tables and spanking them for speaking Mohave.[vii]

The punishments were not just physical.  For speaking their “barbarous dialects”, American Indian students in boarding schools were humiliated, mocked, and threatened; made to sit in the corner or held back in school; made the object of ridicule by their teachers and classmates.

Whole generations of indigenous American speakers had their languages literally beaten from their bodies and scrubbed from their mouths.

*               *                  *

Where the physical damage stopped, the psychological damage continues to take its toll.  These generations of Native Americans came out of school believing that their languages were shameful, inferior, and useless.  This message had been so successfully ingrained in these students that in 1881, a mere two years after he founded the first off-reservation boarding school, Colonel Pratt received a sorrowful letter from a little girl, confessing to speaking one Indian word.  “I felt so sorry that I could not eat my supper,” wrote the Sioux child, “and I could not forget that Indian word, and while I was sitting at the table the tears rolled down my cheeks.”[viii]

Having been denied the possibility of taking their languages with them into their adulthood, many believed (along with their educators) that languages like Tlingit and Mohave were relics of a dying past.  Indigenous language maintenance, for these traumatized speakers, was not only impossible, it didn’t even seem desirable.  Even if these former students returned back to their communities, the likelihood that they would teach their children the languages of their grandparents was slim to none.

And lest we are tempted to believe that these practices are just bad memories from our sad past, it is important to note that these boarding schools, and their anti-native languages policies, were in operation well into the 20th century.  Small wonder, then, that perhaps 25% of the languages indigenous to the US are already extinct, and almost all of the rest are endangered.

This is not how languages play out their lives “naturally.”  And to my mind, there is something not only completely unnatural but profoundly unjust about that language landscape of the US.

*               *                  *

The story of American Indian boarding schools is just one of myriad stories we could tell.  Aboriginal Canadians had very similar boarding school experiences.  Aboriginal Australians arguably fared even worse. There are even examples of corporal punishment and humiliation being used to stamp out indigenous languages in colonized Africa.[ix]

These are some of the stories that we know about.  There are most likely many more that we will never get to hear.  In many places of the world where there were once stories, songs, and voices, there is now nothing but silence.

[i] Crystal, D. (2000).  Language death. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University.   pg 84

[ii] Adams, D.W. (1995). Education for extinction: American Indians and the boarding school experience, 1875-1928.  Lawrence, KS: University Press of Kansas.   pg 19

[iii] Ibid, pg 102

[iv] Quoted in Lomawaima, K.T. & McCarty, T.L. (2006). To remain an Indian: Lessons in democracy from a century of Native American education. New York, NY: Teachers College Press.  pg 134

[v] Adams, pg 122

[vi] Quoted in Crystal, pg 85

[vii] Adams, pg 141

[viii] Quoted in Adams, pg 141

[ix] Crystal, pg 85


ImageAUTHOR: Allison Taylor-Adams has Bachelor’s degrees in Religious Studies and Russian Language and Literature from the University of Oklahoma, and is currently pursuing her Master’s degree in Applied Linguistics at the University of Massachusetts-Boston. She blogs about languages, language learning, and linguistic diversity at Polyglossic. She also loves lace knitting and hiking in the woods, both of which are activities that can conveniently be accomplished while also talking and thinking about languages.


EDITOR’S NOTE ON BLOG SERIES: Living Tongues Institute regularly encounters perspectives on language endangerment that we believe our blog readers would find thought-provoking, fascinating, debatable and challenging. This guest blog series, named BODY OF WORDS, is a forum for such opinions. The views expressed belong to the author and are not necessarily shared by everyone at Living Tongues Institute.

Dr. Gregory Anderson helps record the Xyzyl Language in Siberia


Dr. Anderson is currently doing fieldwork in Siberia and recently published an article about his work:

“The 2012 Enduring Voices expedition to the Siberia Language Hotspot has allowed us to explore the current state of the Xyzyl (pronounced hizzle) language from the Republic of Xakasia (pronounced ha-KAH-see-ya, also spelled “Khakasiya”).

We traveled across the birch-covered hills of southern Siberia and into the wind-swept steppe dotted with ancient burial mounds until we reached the Xyzyl territory northwest of Mongolia. We visited five villages and identified fifty to sixty total speakers and semi-speakers.

Xyzyl is an unrecognized “hidden” language officially considered a dialect of the Xakas language. Xyzyl people we interviewed insist theirs is a separate language and our linguistic analysis supports this…”

For the rest of Dr. Anderson’s article, please check out right here on Nat Geo NewsWatch.

Thanks for reading!

Hishuk Ish Tsawalk: Everything is One

Living Tongues project coordinator Anna Luisa Daigneault recently wrote an article about Nuu-chah-nulth language revitalization efforts on Vancouver Island in British Columbia, Canada. View the full article here. Kathy Robinson, First Nations language activistImage above: Kathy Robinson is a language warrior. At the age of 81, she is one of the last two fluent native speakers of Tseshaht (pronounced “tsi-sha-aht”), a language once popularly spoken on the west coast of Vancouver Island, British Columbia. The Tseshaht people are one of 14 Nations that make up the Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council.

Urge President Obama to sign the executive order on Native American language revitalization

This just in from our friends at the LSA (Linguistic Society of America) and the RNLD (Resource Network for Linguistic Diversity http://www.rnld.org/):

The LSA Committee on Endangered Languages and their Preservation (CELP) is requesting the help of the American linguistics and language activism community on RNLD. You may recall that last April the LSA passed a resolution urging President Obama to sign an executive order on Native American language revitalization (http://www.lsadc.org/info/lsa-res-native-american.cfm). CELP is now following this up by instituting a letter-writing campaign to President Obama, in order to convey to the White House our support for this important issue.

We are encouraging all of you to write letters and become agents of positive change. Writing a letter is easy – it takes just a few clicks on the CELP website: www.lsacelp.org.

There are three ways to help!

1. Simple, effective, and really fast:

-Go to http://www.whitehouse.gov/contact

-Fill out the form. In the drop-down list for 
the Subject box, select “Education.”

-In the message box, copy and paste the 
letter found at the bottom of our webpage http://lsacelp.org/take-action/ and type your name at the end.

-Solve the captcha by typing the word or phrase given in the box. Press send, and you’re done!

2. More effective and almost as fast:

-Copy and paste the letter found at http://lsacelp.org/take-action/ into a word processor such as Microsoft Word.

-Type today’s date at the top of the letter.

-Print it out and sign it.

-Mail it to: 
President Barack Obama
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW Washington, DC 20500

3. Most effective:

-Write your own letter in your own words. Let President Obama and the White House know why this issue is important to you!


-Use the link above to send your letter electronically, or print and sign your letter and mail it to the White House.

Thank you very much for your attention. We value your participation and all the work that you do in the furtherance of Indigenous language revitalization.