Language Postcards for Humanity

Campus community members were invited to write the name of their language and something about their language on color coded notecards.

Card types:

  • Green notecards (what your language means to you): 15
  • Turquoise notecards (favorite word/phrase): 45
  • Pink notecards (name in writing system): 24
  • Yellow notecard (anything else about language): 11

Students: Anita Kemp, Angelica Manriquez, Prairie Markussen

Project’s Purpose:

Due to the continuous loss of languages (as Michael Krauss [1998] and others have catalogued), specifically, Indigenous languages, it is critical to teach both young and older generations about the vitality of each language and the contribution that each makes in regards to culture, identity, linguistic knowledge, and acceptance. Keeping in mind what Leanne Hinton tells us—“language death has become part of a human rights struggle” (2001, p. 4)—we aim to promote the value of one’s mother tongue through this project, and spark the idea of critical thinking, in regards to what languages resemble in our life and how they form part of our identity. Being members of a diverse community, such as the University of Arizona, it is important to reiterate the merit and respect that every language deserves, with the purpose of protecting these languages and preventing them from disappearing. Another goal is to raise awareness of the fact that regardless if one’s language is dominant and well preserved, it should be everyone’s responsibility to care about other’s languages who are enduring the burden of language endangerment. From David Crystal, we know that because of the “recognition of official languages,” a growth in “global lingua francas,” and other factors, “these developments will have put minority languages under increasing pressure” (2000, p. 69). Therefore, this project will serve as support for those whose languages are dismissed, who need a reminder of the power and positivity inherent in their language.

Project Description:

The interactive part of this project involves participants writing down on notecards what their language means to them, or their favorite word, name, or a phrase in a language of their choice. Participants will hang their note cards on a clothesline (which will be kept for exhibition) that will be criss-crossed in the booth ceiling. The criss-crossing clothesline and colored notecards are a visual representation of how languages interact and intersect with one another.

For the takeaway portion of our project, we will buy postcards and put labels on the back of each with crucial information about languages, such as statistics that resemble the total languages spoken worldwide (6000-7000 languages), the fact that one language dies every 14 days, the top five languages in the world, what is lost when languages die, etc. The participants that come to the booth get to take a postcard of their choosing with them, as a reassurance that they learned something essential about the languages around the world.

In addition, a mini-poster will be displayed with important information on language revitalization and other facts, with the purpose of attracting people who are wandering around. This poster may motivate them to engage in recognition and preservation of their own language (by writing on the note cards) and admire other’s identities and forms of expression (by reading other people’s note cards). People will be able to connect and provide their personal input on the subject and learn about language endangerment, at the same time.

References

Crystal, D. (2000). Why do languages die? In Language Death (pp. 68-90). Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Hinton, L. (2001). Language revitalization: an overview. In L. Hinton & K. Hale (eds.) The Green Book of Language Revitalization in Practice (pp. 3-18). Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill.

Krauss, M. (1998). The condition of native North American languages: The need for realistic assessment and action. International Journal of the Sociology of Language, 132(1), 9.