Of the more than 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 Festival program highlighted language diversity as a vital part of our human heritage. Cultural experts from communities around the world joined us to 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 came 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.
Festival visitors interacted 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 who participated in the One World, Many Voices program richly illustrated these different ways of knowing and showed how cultural and language diversity enrich the world.
The One World, Many Voices program was 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.