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Smithsonian Folklife Festival Showcases Vanishing Languages

  • Brandon Goldner

The U.S. Smithsonian Institution reports that more than 2,500 world languages will disappear by the end of this century. That is why the world’s largest museum and research complex dedicated part of its annual folklife festival to shine a light on these languages.

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

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

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

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

One focus this year is on some of languages from around the globe that are expected to vanish. The different language representatives 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 the disappearing Hawaiian language. "It’s a great experience to be with other cultures who are working to preserve and to ensure the survival and thriving of their languages," he said.

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

Maryland native Elisabeth Ostler said this festival, with its artifacts and music, allows Americans like herself to learn about the different cultures around the world.

"Generally speaking, we’re pretty isolated to different cultures. There’s so much to be appreciated and experienced," she said.

Ostler hopes young people like her seven children will be inspired by the festival, and will want to make a difference in the world.