Norway launches ‘Language museums of the world’

The Vigdís International Centre of Multilingualism in Iceland is opening the World Language Centre later this year to raise awareness of the importance of languages and language diversity as one of mankinds most precious cultural assets.

After many years of dedicated work, the Ivar Aasen Centre has published Language museums of the world that highlights 65 museums in 31 countries on five continents, as well as 15 digital museums.

Various South African museums and monuments are taken into account, including the iconic Afrikaans Language Monument and Museum in Paarl, and the language monuments in seven of the country’s provinces.

Furthermore, the centre that is dedicated to the Norwegian language and culture, now has a glass wall inscribed with the sentence “there are thousands of languages” in Southern African languages such as Afrikaans, isiNdebele and Shona, as well as 30 other languages of the world.

According to the editor, Ottar Grepstad, two out of three languages in the world are used in Africa or Asia. “In this book, however, two out of three language museums are situated in Europe. That indicates differences in the institutional development of societies, but also some of the difficulties connected to such documentation.”

The director of the ATM, Michael Jonas, says they are honoured to occupy an important space in the book. “However, in developing countries, especially those that were previously colonised, the positive, empowering role of indigenous languages is unfortunately disregarded.

“Just as the development of Afrikaans is important, the development of our country’s other languages should receive more attention, especially in terms of the educational and cultural benefits,” he adds. “For us, the Afrikaans Language Monument is thus also a beacon of hope for other African languages”.

The book highlights the language museums inaugurated since 1898, museums of writing and written culture since 1884, museums in memory of people that played enormous roles in language development, and digital museums dedicated to languages. These include various indigenous languages of the Americas, Europe and Australia, as well as two museums dedicated to Esperanto.

Language museums of the world also describes exciting projects for 18 new language museums in countries such as China, Korea, Israel and England, and includes information about a variety of language festivals and so forth.

Grepstad adds that the way of thinking about language has changed throughout the world the last decades, and almost half of all language museums have been opened since 2000.

“Language is a cultural, social or political issue as well as a linguistic one, and in this broader sense,
language museums also include institutions that deal with written or spoken culture as their core theme,” he says.

The free e-book, which will be updated as new information comes to light, can be downloaded at www.aasentunet.no or directly via Language museums of the world.