“Our mission is to inspire an appreciation for the magic and beauty of language.”
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The National Museum of Language, a 501 (c)(3) non-profit organization, has its mission front and center, the quote that opens this blog post: To inspire an appreciation for the magic and beauty of language. Inspired and inspiring are the three guests for this podcast in which we explore this jewel of a virtual resource that, I and we are aware, is not as well known as it needs to be to reflect language’s role in our lives and society.
The National Museum of Language is a virtual, moveable, and outreach-focused museum well-worth your time, attention, and support. Please take a tour of the rich website, and settle into your favorite “room” for a wonderful experience. Share their website with others, and let’s support the Museum’s work to provide insights, resources, and joy in and for language and languages.
Take a look at the biographies of my guests Gregory Nedved, Jill Robbins, and Laura Murray, to see how deeply talented and accomplished leaders in the world of languages and cultures (government, military, business, education) are helping this virtual museum to reach more of us worldwide — all of us who use language, are intrigued or dazzled by language, who want to know more about how language works for human beings; what language is good for in work, play, societies and individuals; how languages around the world and across time look and sound, and what stories and perspectives the cultures who use and used each language have to share.
Language is the way human beings know themselves, their culture, their history, their identity. Language is the way we reach out to each other, sharing perspectives which name, sort, categorize, and place values on the objects and experiences found in the world around us. The National Museum of Language is a treasure house of sharing the common human experience of language: spoken, written, signed, sung, celebrated.
Enjoy the Museum, with its resources, exhibits, events, stories, graphic comics with videos, blogs, contests, games, regionalisms, history, interviews, poetry, jokes… and stories in Klingon! See how you or those in your circle can support the Museum, through sponsorship, participation, regional representation. They speak our language, the language of humanity, engaged across borders and time.
Enjoy the podcast.
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Thank you for always focusing on the possibilities, opportunities and the power of language and what it can do for us individually - and collectively!
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[Introduction to the podcast and guests]
Norah Jones: … and I am just so delighted to welcome my three wonderful guests today from the National Museum of Language, Gregory Nedved, Laura Murray and Jill Robbins. What a delight to have all three of you here. Yeah. I would really appreciate an idea here as we share about the National Museum and about you, what is it that brought you to this museum, this moment, this reason for its being? Greg, why don’t we start with you?
Gregory Nedved: Okay. Well, thank you Norah, and hello everyone out there. Just let me say that I have been part of the museum since 2008 when we opened to the public. And it’s interesting, how did I get involved with the museum? I don’t want to say a marriage made in heaven. I prefer to say more it was something like I needed a project and the museum at that point needed me. So, the two kind of came together. And I have been with the museum ever since. It’s 2021 and I’ve been the president for the last two, three years. I came on board basically the same time that Jill did. I think Jill was a little earlier, and she will tell you about that. But I have been with the museum, at least the physical museum, when it first opened to the public in 2008, and now the virtual museum ever since. That is my involvement with the National Museum of Language, at least initially.
Norah Jones: That’s great. Thank you so much. And Jill, speaking of which, since you’ve been referred to, please go next. Thank you.
Jill Robbins: I got involved with the museum because I was working for a language advocacy organization in D.C. and one of the museum officers contacted us and asked if we would help with a symposium they wanted to sponsor on careers and language at George Washington University. So, I got involved with that and it seemed to me a great thing to promote language study among college students and to help direct them to possible careers that would apply their knowledge of other languages and cultures. And I think that after that symposium was over, I got an invitation to be an associate of the museum. I don’t know if you’ve heard the expression, “If you want something done, ask a busy person.”
Norah Jones: Indeed.
Jill Robbins: They realized that I was a pretty busy person, but I could help them get things done.
Norah Jones: That’s fantastic, Jill. I’m so excited to hear that and I am looking forward to hearing more about the kinds of things that you have contributed. Laura, tell us about yourself and how you have gotten involved with the National Museum of Language, please.
Laura Murray: As I mention in my bio, which some of you may or may not have seen yet, I was a career employee at the Department of Defense from 1985 to 2018, and I had many jobs, different jobs in the language field as a working language specialist and as a manager of people working with language and teaching and so on. And I worked with Greg at my job early on, and we collaborated with different projects over time. So, after I retired from the government in 2018, similar to what Greg was saying, I’ve wanted to stay involved in the language field in some way even as a retiree. And fortuitously, Greg invited me to be a trustee of the museum based on my government experience.
Norah Jones: I see.
Laura Murray: And one of the more significant experiences that I had working for the government was that I had the opportunity to launch the nationwide STARTALK Program, which some of you may have heard of, that provides summer language learning opportunities for students and professional development for teachers of less commonly taught languages. Because of that, and because of some of my other professional experiences in the language field, I had a brought network of people all around the country that knew me and that I thought I could reach out to. So, Greg asked me … I’m a real Johnny-come-lately to the museum compared to Greg and Jill.
I mean, I’ve only actually been working with the museum directly in the past year, since 2020, right around the time that they went virtual. But I’ve really enjoyed it. I’ve had a chance to reconnect with a lot of people that I knew professionally, and I think later on when we talk more about what we’re specifically do in the museum I can explain a little bit about what I’ve been doing since then.
Norah Jones: That’s fantastic, thank you very much. And indeed, let’s take a look at what is the museum doing, what has always been its motif, and what kinds of stresses, strains and opportunities have come from this virtual experience here this last year and a half. But especially, what do people need to know about the National Museum of Language?
Gregory Nedved: Wanted to mention just a little bit about us because again I don’t know how many people are that aware of us. I won’t spend too much time but I just wanted to give a little bit of background and talk about our mission statement.
Norah Jones: Please.
Gregory Nedved: Basically, I think your leaders would be interested in knowing that the idea for the museum actually dates back to 1971. And it was the idea of a National Security Agency employee by the name of Dr. [Milan] Murdoch who was involved in a language project at work that became an outside community project. And she thought that when she retired she would like to have a museum dedicated to languages. So, that’s sort of how it came about. Then in 1998 she actually made it a reality, it became an actual museum, but it didn’t have a building until 2008.
Norah Jones: Interesting.
Gregory Nedved: As I mentioned 2008 before. When we opened to the public back then, we were one of the few museums of our type in the whole world in the fact that we were dedicated to languages across the board. I mean, there are museums out there that focus on certain aspects of language, but we were a museum that focused on languages across the board. And to this day, we’re still unique in that aspect. It’s interesting when we decided in 2013 to become virtual, we went from becoming a very unique museum originally to another unique museum in that we became an entirely virtual museum pretty much before everyone else did. I mean, basically it’s like we beat the traffic.
Norah Jones: Indeed you did.
Gregory Nedved: We were virtual before virtual was cool. But basically just let me say that the mission of the museum, and actually it sounds more like a vision statement, is to inspire an appreciation for the magic and beauty of language. To inspire an appreciation for the magic and beauty of language. And the reason I say it sounds more like a vision statement is because we know that we need to actually have more of a mission statement. A mission statement is when you want to accomplish something.
Basically, we’re just saying what we believe in, so we’re trying to fix that mission statement now. But essentially our three themes, and they all focus around languages in general, is the universal aspects of language (and I’ll explain these just briefly), language in society and languages of the world. The “universal aspects of language” is, basically, it’s a catch-all term that basically covers everything you can think of about language, the thought process, language testing, theories, language creation, crossword puzzles believe it or not.
All our programs focus on these kind of themes. Then language in society, our second one, is basically what can you do with a language in terms of a profession? Teaching. For example, the American Translators Association, we’re interested in their kind of programs. Then finally languages of the world, where the focus is on individual languages, like for example what’s the difference between Mandarin Chinese and Cantonese Chinese. Basically, that’s what we do. And even when we became virtual, we’ve consistently stayed with this where we even have virtual presentations, programs, outside speakers, and every one of our programs focus on these individual themes. Okay, so that’s an overview. I can go on and on I suppose, but I’d like to give my colleagues more of an opportunity to talk as well.
Norah Jones: Thank you for that overview, Greg.
Jill Robbins: Spinning off from the languages of the world theme that Greg mentioned, one focus of the museum over many years has been revitalization and preservation and indigenous languages.
Gregory Nedved: Yes.
Jill Robbins: Early on, even before opening the exhibit hall, we sponsored a symposium to bring together experts on indigenous language preservation. And personally, I’ve done work in that area. And our speaker series has featured several experts who have talked in the last year about different aspects of this kind of work, language preservation. We say languages of the world and we really want to be inclusive when we say that, that we support language learning in all kinds of communities for all kinds of purposes.
Norah Jones: Thank you for that. It’s a very powerful aspect, to hear the support of indigenous languages. And we do recognize, based on your three areas of focus, that you do mean worldwide. Tapping on that for just a moment, how do you see the National Museum of Language’s complete organizational pattern in helping to make invisibility visible, helping to make languages stay healthy and grow? Take that route for just a little while, please.
Jill Robbins: Our former president, Gary McCone, was very involved with the Tribal College’s network, Tribal College’s libraries specifically. So, he brought up in a lot of information that we turned into exhibits in our museum about, for example, the languages of the area where the museum was physically located, the Maryland and Delaware area. And we had a game, for example, where you had a little wooden block with a picture on the front and a word and the question was, “Is this a Native American word that was brought into English, or is this an English word, is it from a European language?” This was a good way to expose young children to the idea that we are actually using Native American words every word without knowing it. One of our latest speakers is another example. A young man who developed a software program to digitize Mayan glyphs. He went to … was it in Guatemala, Greg?
Laura Murray: Yucatán in Mexico.
Jill Robbins: Yeah, Yucatán, Mexico. And he worked with people who are preserving the Mayan glyphs and teaching it to young people there so that they can write their own stories in Mayan using these glyphs, and creating new literature. What he told us in the presentation was that much of the written material that we have in Mayan is many centuries old, and it’s like a farmer’s almanac type of writing. “It’s going to rain this year and you better take care of your animals,” and whatever. So, for the interests of young people he wanted them to be able to write their own stories and to learn how to work with these glyphs, this writing system, on a computer, since they’re on their devices all the time, right?
Norah Jones: Yeah.
Jill Robbins: So, as a result of that speaker event, this young man made several connections nationwide, in fact worldwide, we other people who are doing research. We had a guest who was from Poland who’s got a working group on writing systems, who connected with him. This is the kind of thing that the museum is really good at, is helping researchers, language experts to publicize what they’re doing and then connect with others who can support them.
Norah Jones: That’s fantastic. Laura, with your background with the STARTALK, I’d say that starting new languages, increases new languages and so forth is an exciting aspect of what Jill has just talked about.
Laura Murray: Yes. What Greg asked me to do when I was invited to join the board was to help them find ways to spread the word about the museum. Even though we had been at least somewhat virtual, partially virtual since 2013, we still had in-person speaker programs at that time between 2013 and 2020 which were in Maryland and mainly attracted a local audience in the Washington Metropolitan Area. We weren’t that well-known nationwide as an institution.
So, pulling on my STARTALK experience, I suggested that we develop a system of … or program, not really a system exactly, of liaisons for the museum and try to get one or two people in every state who could represent us in their states and spread the word about our programs, encourage membership in the museum. And also let us know what’s going on in their states so that we could be a kind of clearinghouse for people who would want to know what’s going on in languages in different places.
So, we set out in January just of this year, started out, and I contacted some people that I knew personally, that I knew wouldn’t just delete my email because of … Like trash, you know? Like some solicitation or something that was coming in from some unknown source.
Norah Jones: Right.
Laura Murray: That actually proved very powerful. Make a long story short, now that it’s near the end of May we have 25 liaisons now in 25 states around the country starting. Some of the states have more than one liaison. California’s going to have six liaisons because it’s huge.
Norah Jones: Wow. Yeah.
Laura Murray: Some other states have two or three and most states have one. Then we also have some international interest, again because of going virtual on some of our programs. So, this gentleman from Poland that Joe mentioned, he’s now a representative for us in Poland.
Laura Murray: And we have a lady from the UK who’s very interested in preserving indigenous languages and dialects. So, she’s also representing us. And we have, it’s part of the United States but it’s not a state, we have a representative in Puerto Rico who has joined our group and she’s been very active. She has experience teaching at the Defense Language Institute, for example, which is out in Monterrey, California, but she’s based in Puerto Rico. She has joined us as a member of the board of trustees.
So, this is really expanding and getting the word out, so it’s pretty exciting to see what’s going on. We have a webpage for the liaisons and we’re posting activities that they send us information about that we think would be of interest to people. One sort of odd … I wouldn’t say it’s an oddity but it just shows the diversity of America’s languages. That’s a term that I know some people use. Dick Brecht talks about America’s languages.
So, a friend of mine in Hawai’i was working on a little project with the Hawai’i Department of Education in which they were putting out information about teaching at home, actually teaching STEM subjects at home. They put it out eight languages, this guidance that was originally written in English and then translated, and the languages included languages which are very rarely seen or heard I think on the mainland such as Tongan.
Norah Jones: Exactly, wow.
Laura Murray: Right, so that’s-
Norah Jones: That’s great.
Laura Murray: We put up a notice about that on our webpages. Another one that I think people might find interesting … We have a liaison in Arkansas, and Arkansas has a legal statute that says Arkansas is an English-only state. Some states have that. I’m not sure exactly what that means. Our liaison in Arkansas, who teaches at the University of Arkansas, informed us that 80, eight-oh, 80 languages are spoken in the state of Arkansas.
Norah Jones: Wow. See. The reality is there are 80, yes.
Laura Murray: Yes, the reality is … They have instituted a Seal of Biliteracy program in Arkansas in 2018, and they’re awarding Seals of Biliteracy in seven languages for graduating high school seniors. She informed us of a very inspiring story. A high school student in Arkansas who is an immigrant from Mexico, and she immigrated to the United States when she was 12. And by the time she’d graduated from high school, she’d improved her English to the point she was at the top of her class, had a 4.3 grade point average.
Norah Jones: Wow.
Laura Murray: She was going to an Honors high school.
Norah Jones: Okay.
Laura Murray: And she has three part-time jobs to help support her family. She also has a mentoring program for English language learners that she started at her school and now has 50 students in it. And she got offers of admission and scholarships from 18 of America’s top colleges worth a total of $3 million. So, she picked Harvard, she said that was her dream. She turned down some other really, really good ones.
Norah Jones: I imagine so.
Laura Murray: What a great story.
Norah Jones: Wow. Phenomenal.
Laura Murray: So, we were going to start a series on our website starting with her story, this young lady, called Immigrant Success Stories, because we like to see people realize what this means to this country to have successful immigrants who are contributing to the country. And bilingualism or multilingualism is an important part of every immigrant success story. So, I think that-
Norah Jones: It certainly is. That’s fabulous. You know what else Laura, that that tells me too? Because this is not only in use in the United States but also an option for people watching all over the world, the virtual in particular, that that particular storyline informs the United States’ history and presence as an immigrant-welcoming language, welcoming entity.
It’s also a model for others to see and is an excellent advocate for the role of language in the United States for other countries as well as urging us, shall we say, to understand, per your story about Arkansas, the nature of languages and their impact in the United States. You have referred now, and I know that when folks listening to this podcast, you are also going to check out my website, fluencyconsulting.com. And you will see there the biographies of Greg and Laura and Jill, and you’ll see information about the museum. I know that you’re going to be directed in many places in this conversation, and also on my website to the website, languagemuseum.org.
When you go to languagemuseum.org, there’s so much richness there. I’ve been so impressed by the number of things that are there. I’m looking right now, for example, as we’re doing this talk, at the Language Leadership Council and the states that are engaged. What are some other things that you know that folks are going to really enjoy seeing, doing, learning about on the website, and how can they become more engaged?
Laura Murray: Jill is raising her hand.
Jill Robbins: Well, I’d like to let you know that beyond our homepage, our second most popular section of our website is the Philogelos. It’s the world’s oldest joke book.
Gregory Nedved: I was going to pick that up. You beat me to it, Jill.
Norah Jones: Philogelos. There we go.
Jill Robbins: Philogelos. This consists of cartoons that are drawn by our colleague Linda Thompson, a wonderful artist. She is also a former Latin and Greek teacher, and she takes the original Greek translations of this joke book, which is from the second or third century, and makes them into very entertaining comics. That’s one. And actually, we have a new addition to that section, in addition to just being able to read or see the comic on the screen, you can hear it read aloud in Greek in a video.
Norah Jones: Wow. Wonderful, wonderful.
Jill Robbins: Another entertaining section which actually goes to one of our goals, museum as a whole, is to help young people understand the variety of careers that they can have by studying language in general or languages specifically. This exhibit is called The Dictionary of American Regional English, or the acronym is DARE. That consisted of a group of graduate students who were sent out from University of Wisconsin, Madison, back in the sixties. They equipped them with a Dodge van, little camper van, and a reel-to-reel tape recorder.
Norah Jones: Wow.
Jill Robbins: And sent them out into small towns all across the United States, where their directive was to get people to read a story aloud. This story was Arthur the Rat, and we have that on our website too. That included the sounds that vary between dialects in different areas of the States. In addition to that, they had a 1,600 word questionnaire that they asked people to sit down with them and answer.
Norah Jones: Wow, wow.
Jill Robbins: As you can imagine, this took about a week.
Norah Jones: Yeah.
Jill Robbins: So, they had to find … Usually, what they found was retired people, people who’d lived in the area for a long time and really knew how to answer some questions like, “What did your momma call that thing that you fry eggs in?” And, “What do you call those little globs of dust under the bed?” So, they categorized, they archived all of this information, and it became the Dictionary of American Regional English, which is a six-volume set that was just completed in 2009, something like that. And-
Laura Murray: I think they just did an update on one of them. I was looking on their website. They just updated volume five and published that.
Jill Robbins: Okay, so it’s still in progress.
Laura Murray: They’re still working on it [crosstalk].
Norah Jones: It’s still going, excellent.
Jill Robbins: And the digital archive is hosted at Harvard. What you can see on our website are graphic stories, like the graphic novel. These are graphic stories that are derived from the memoirs of those researchers who went out across the country. To me, it really captures the fact that linguistics is an adventure. Being a linguist is pretty exciting.
Norah Jones: It sure is, Jill. It is exciting. And I go back to that very first word of your three parts, language is actually magical. Its vision, that mission is to bring in the understanding. Just because we wake up every day and most of us are able, not all, but most of us are able to form language in our minds and get it out in some way through our body or our voice, doesn’t make it any less magical. And I am dazzled by indeed the graphics, the videos that are found in these various areas that you’re talking about. And I have to say, I have a warm spot in my heart for 1,600 items in a survey. I myself did a survey as part of my graduate degree in the language varieties around the United States. By no means as large but it was a powerful experience to understand the magic of language in general and its history and its movement. That’s great. What other things are those which come to your guys’ minds and hearts to share about the National Museum of Language and what people will find.
Gregory Nedved: Well, if I can talk a little bit more about our website. I want to give a shout out to Rob Glass, he’s our social media manager and of course Jill, Dr. Robbins, who’s our chief technology officer. But if you look at our site, it’s just a reminder of all the things that we do in the museum. It covers everything. We have interviews with linguists. We have a language of the month. We have a teachers’ corner. We cover everything. Again, if you want to know what the museum believes in just look at our website. There’s just a lot of very interesting things that we have on there. There’s a virtual tour, which is new. That’s another thing. If you look at that virtual tour, you will see pretty much everything that we’ve ever done in 2008. So, what a surprise, I’m promoting our website. [crosstalk]-
Norah Jones: You should indeed. That’s why we’re here.
Gregory Nedved: At one point, I would have said it’s the best thing that we do now. I’m still going to make that claim. We’re virtual, we don’t have a building, but if you go to our website you just really learn who we are. And again, there’s just so much variety. There isn’t anything that we don’t really touch on.
Norah Jones: You may be virtual … Sorry Jill, excuse me just a sec but I’m looking here at resources too. I’m looking at the fact that you have one of my favorite things ever, The Five-Minute Linguist, which is such a succinct way of taking a look at language in general, and especially for those that don’t have a lot of time to plunge in and never again be able to be seen once they have disappeared into the hole of linguistics. But also Mango Languages and transparent languages. And you have a variety of events that include trivia, which I just think is great. There’s a lot of trivia things. Again, the beauty of these resources in general, and specifically because instructors can use them as well, makes this an excellent place to go in and swim. It’s a deep pool.
Jill Robbins: The Five-Minute Linguist is something that we co-sponsored with the College of Charleston and Linguistics Society of America. And that actually does give us a little bit of royalties every year.
Norah Jones: That’s great.
Jill Robbins: The third edition just came out and there’s a story in there, How Do You put Languages in a Museum?
Norah Jones: Yeah, wonderful, wonderful. And Laura?
Laura Murray: I was going to mention, one of our newer exhibits, we’re calling it Sharing Our Stories. This was a project that was developed just last year, more or less at the request of the Gaithersburg Book Fair. Gaithersburg, Maryland, for those not familiar with the area. It’s a suburb of Washington, D.C. in Montgomery County. They normally had an in-person book fair and because of the pandemic they had to do a virtual book fair. They asked the museum to create an exhibit of children’s stories in different languages.
So, the museum reached out to its members and asked them if they knew of any stories, children’s stories that they could contribute in the native language, and as well as getting an English translation of the stories. So, we now have a collection of stories in 14 languages and some of the, or multiple stories in one language, much more than 14 stories but there’s 14 languages. For example, under Ukrainian we have eight stories, Ukrainian stories. Thanks to Jill, we had an intern working with us on that, a paid intern, who turned this into a lovely exhibit where we have a video of each story including the live narration in the original language and custom illustrations for each story. In some cases, these are original drawings that we commissioned. In other cases, they are authentic illustrations from books from the foreign countries that published the stories.
And many of the stories are traditional stories going back 100, 200, 300 years. Traditional, so they have cultural elements. We have one story in Yupik, which is an Alaskan native language, one of the more common native languages of Alaska, and the illustrations are done by a child.
Norah Jones: That’s so cool.
Laura Murray: I know that you’ve had Joy Peyton on as one of your interviewees. [Episode 24]
Norah Jones: Yeah.
Laura Murray: And Joy told us that this was very valuable for teachers, in some way, for children, and gave us some suggestions to continue to enhance the exhibit. We hope to continue to grow the exhibit. And as we get better known by teachers through our liaison program, that we’d like to see more of our material used in classrooms. We can find ways to make it more relevant and useful for language teachers, especially with young children.
Norah Jones: That’s fantastic. And Laura, I have to say, a group, I have to say that one thing that is true also about languages is that the pride that folks have in speaking them, the joy that they have in the cultural and historical and family backgrounds is that when I opened up the Sharing Our Stories, and saw that there were Bosnian stories and Serbian stories and Ukrainian stories but no Croatian stories, I became not indignant but fired up to go find a Croatian person that would help to do this that is currently living in Croatia.
Laura Murray: That would be great.
Norah Jones: That kind of competitiveness I think is also something that can help to … and I speak of course with a smile in my voice, I hope, that languages are so much part of our identity, so much part of our history, that when people see languages, they recognize then the ways that they can contribute. Speaking of contribute, help me to understand, help our listeners to understand.
I see, for example, under the “Blog” heading on the website languagemuseum.org, submit your writings and interviews and teachers’ corner and so forth. How can people get engaged with not only receiving your wonderful resources and suggesting them, not only potentially being an ambassador from their state, I’m looking at my own Virginia and noticing it is still gray, but how else might they be able to participate in the National Museum of Language?
Gregory Nedved: Well, this is always an issue. One of the things, one of the really valuable things about Laura’s initiative is that we now have liaisons, representatives in all of these states. That is a good way there to get more involvement. In terms of the teachers’ corner, I would like to get more input from teachers from other states instead of having this named person writing the column every month or whatever. We’re looking for greater participation.
We get the word out as best we can. We have a newsletter. A lot of it is word of mouth. We do an awful lot of collaborating. And of course shows like yours, this podcast, is wonderful for us as well. Again, thank you for this because there’s going to be people listening in, they’re going to go to the website and they’re going to think, “Hey, can I participate?” It’s interesting. We have actually had people that have asked us if we could interview them. They feel that what they’ve accomplished is worthwhile. I haven’t said no to anyone yet. Everyone has an interesting story.
Norah Jones: Indeed.
Jill Robbins: Yeah, so-
Gregory Nedved: But it’s fairly interesting, how people hear about us and how they want to submit their own individual contributions. Perhaps Laura and Jill have more to say about this.
Norah Jones: Well, this question-
Jill Robbins: Yeah, so-
Norah Jones: Go ahead.
Jill Robbins: Submitting a story in your native language would be one way. Offering to speak, to share, if you’re doing research in the language field. Our speaker series is now virtual so anybody anywhere in the world can be a speaker. We also appreciate volunteers who are willing to contribute their time and talents. A professor in Puerto Rico offered to help us. She’s now become a member of our board and she’s helping to direct our upcoming exhibit, which is going to be a language cruise around Puerto Rico.
Norah Jones: Wow. Wonderful.
Gregory Nedved: It’s a virtual cruise.
Jill Robbins: Artists are welcome to help to contribute graphics. We often get emails from young looking for internships and now we can do virtual internships.
Norah Jones: Great.
Jill Robbins: We have two running this summer, one with a Georgetown University student and one with a Barnard College student.
Norah Jones: There’s openings, there’s possibilities. Listeners, take note. Laura?
Laura Murray: I was going to say, Norah, if you have someone that you would like to nominate to be a liaison from Virginia, we would welcome a suggestion from you. We know you have deep roots in the Virginia language community. Yes, we haven’t gotten a volunteer yet from Virginia. We’re basically working different networks and asking people to recommend people that they know, so that’d be one contribution.
Norah Jones: Anyone listening from Virginia, duck! I’m coming after you, that’s for sure.
Laura Murray: And the Croatian story thing, that would be great too. I mean, it’s kind of word of mouth.
Norah Jones: Yeah.
Laura Murray: We are working with a professional advisor who’s helping us pro bono try to improve-
Norah Jones: Great.
Laura Murray: … our outreach and support issues.
Norah Jones: Wonderful.
Laura Murray: This is still a work in progress. We probably have not been very good about being as direct as we could be about asking people for support.
Jill Robbins: Yeah.
Laura Murray: That’s an issue for us.
Jill Robbins: I think maybe we could do a shout out to Carol Weisman of boardbuilders.com, who is helping us with the development-
Laura Murray: Carol came and gave us a seminar and she made an example which I thought was quite apropos. A group that she had helped, she said like 30 years ago. She’s been doing this a long time. These were a group of artists who specialize in colored beads, glass beads, which is a whole art form in and of itself.
Norah Jones: Yes.
Laura Murray: They had a very small museum but she said the problem was that they were all artists and they really didn’t have a sense of how to build a museum. They just wanted to display their work.
Norah Jones: Yes.
Laura Murray: After talking to them for a while, she just recommended that they should affiliate with another museum. So, they eventually affiliated with the Corning Museum, which is a big museum.
Norah Jones: Indeed.
Laura Murray: I guess they have exhibits there or something. In a sense, we’re sort of like those glass beaders because all of us are linguists or people who’ve specialized in language study, and we’re not experts in fundraising and development, which is a whole profession these days too.
Norah Jones: It is, yes indeed.
Laura Murray: We have relied a lot on word of mouth, as Greg said. But I mean the word of mouth has not been bad. For example, the young man who gave the presentation about digitizing the Mayan glyphs, he just looked us up and said, “Hey, I did this, and would you like to hear about it?”
Gregory Nedved: Yeah, that’s an example of people coming to us.
Laura Murray: And he was-
Gregory Nedved: A good problem to have.
Laura Murray: Yeah. I mean, that was an amazing presentation because first of all what he did was very original and he was a college student when he did it. He had gone to Yucatán for his junior year abroad for Spanish study, and while he was there he realized that his mentor was actually a native speaker of Mayan and was running a school for children in his community in Mayan. But he didn’t have much to work with because, as Jill was saying, the written literature of Mayan language, there had been quite a bit, but it was all burnt by Catholic missionaries in the 1600s. And there’s only three books in the world left of these original hundreds of books and they’re in museums in Europe. The rest of it’s available from stone carved sculptures in various places. He just decided on his own, he said he’s an artist, he copied the glyphs. They looked like pictographs but I learned from the presentation that they’re actually phonetic symbols.
Norah Jones: Interesting.
Laura Murray: Yeah.
Norah Jones: A true alphabet, yeah.
Laura Murray: Maybe two or three of them were combined to make a word in a systematic way. This was somebody who just volunteered out of the blue for us, and he gave a great presentation and we’ve helped him. He got visibility for his work.
Jill Robbins: Yeah, that’s Thomas Whitten.
Laura Murray: Yeah, Thomas Whitten.
Norah Jones: Thomas Whitten.
Laura Murray: Yeah, from Maine.
Norah Jones: Shout out to Thomas.
Laura Murray: Yeah. Interesting.
Norah Jones: And he’s an inspiration for others that are going to, I hope, jump in your direction now to volunteer but also to support and sponsor. You have sponsorship opportunities, donation opportunities on your website, or people can come and talk to me, virtually that is, about these options. Is that correct?
Jill Robbins: Yes. In fact, I mentioned the language cruise, if a company would like to have their name on the boat that’s open.
Norah Jones: There we go.
Jill Robbins: Or maybe as an individual, you might want to name one of the decks of our cruise ship after a loved one.
Norah Jones: That’s great.
Jill Robbins: Or somebody that you respect.
Norah Jones: And one of the things that I’m hoping also that this podcast will do is to spark the interest and skillset of others who may think of additional sponsorship approaches. I know, Laura, you’ve mentioned, both in your role and also those that you have all brought into continue this assistance, but it’s always nice to have that idea that comes in that’s like ooh, extra special. I’m just so excited what you’ve shared today. We have here, as we pull this podcast together, one option … Is there anything in particular you’re like, “Oh my goodness, we have not yet said this about our wonderful National Museum of Language. Before we go, people have to know about this.”
Gregory Nedved: And what a surprise, I’m very proud of what this museum has accomplished. It’s amazing, I’ve been with the museum for eight years, and we’ve had mostly the same core people. These are people that are getting no money for this.
Norah Jones: Wow, wow.
Gregory Nedved: And we only have two people that we actually pay, our executive assistant Linda who’s also the wonderful cartoonist that Jill described, and also our social media manager. We also have people that we hire as contractors occasionally. It’s amazing what we’ve been able to accomplish just by a sheer love of language. The other point I want to make, and I can’t believe I missed this, I need to promote our flag. This is going to sound funny.
Norah Jones: A language flag.
Gregory Nedved: In 2008, we created the world’s only international flag of language, which came about from a contest, a worldwide contest. And if you look at the flag, basically it looks like a language tree. The three colors of the leaves, they’re green but they’re three shades of green, past, present and future languages. And it’s now our logo. But it’s a unique item. There’s only one flag in existence, which we own. Sorry, I’ve waited this long to say that. I’m done. And again [crosstalk]-
Jill Robbins: And we should also shout out to Deborah Keefe, the seamstress who created the-
Gregory Nedved: Oh absolutely, Deborah’s one of those-
Jill Robbins: … physical flag and it’s a beautiful flag.
Gregory Nedved: Deborah’s been with us since 2008. She’s one of those people that doesn’t get paid for this that I just mentioned. Yes, thank you Jill. How could I forget her?
Norah Jones: It is a four-foot by five-foot flag and it is beautiful, guys. When you go to languagemuseum.org, check it out, of course. All righty, thank you Greg.
Jill Robbins: We’re going to have a trivia night coming up in the fall, focused on the Spanish language. So, if you’re studying the Spanish language or teaching it and you would like to have your students join or you want to join yourself, watch out for our announcements about that. You can subscribe to our newsletter on our website. You don’t have to be a member to get the newsletter. Comes out every month.
Norah Jones: Thank you so much, Jill. And Laura?
Laura Murray: Well, as long as we’re talking about our outward-facing activities, we have a Facebook group that is led by our former president Gary McCone. He posts almost every day and they now have 2,000 followers of this group. Of course, we could have an unlimited number. So, if people want to get some sense of the diverse things that the museum is interested in, that Facebook group would be a good way to dip their toes in to see what the National Museum of Language is doing.
We certainly welcome people. They can write to firstname.lastname@example.org for any questions they have or if they’re thinking about wanting to be a volunteer. If they’re in a state where we already have liaison that doesn’t matter, we welcome more volunteers certainly. If they’re in a state that we don’t have liaison for, that position is open too, so they can express an interest. If they don’t want to do anything that that’s much of a responsibility, we have all kinds of opportunities for people to volunteer. We even have one high school student from New Jersey who’s an unpaid intern for us.
Norah Jones: Great.
Laura Murray: He just popped up, a high school student. He has good computer skills, he’s very computer literate. We don’t pay him, he just does it because he thinks it’s fun, we think. He’s been doing a great job so we could even-
Jill Robbins: He’s getting service-learning credit, Laura.
Laura Murray: Okay, yes. For his school, it counts as his volunteer work.
Jill Robbins: Michael, yeah.
Laura Murray: Michael, yeah.
Jill Robbins: And he’s also contributed stories in Chinese, which is his people’s native language.
Norah Jones: I think everyone listening today can tell that this is a welcoming environment, that the magic of language includes the magic of welcome, the magic of respect, the magic of outreach and inclusion. There are so many folks that have been speaking in these podcasts about identity, about inclusion, about elevating others, and this National Museum of Language pulls it all together. I’m excited to have you here today, Greg, Laura and Jill.
I’m excited about the National Museum of Language. And I’m just really encouraging all that have listened to this podcast to go to their site, to volunteer, to use the resources, and otherwise to make sure that the work of this museum grows, its impact grows, so that our world can be that kind of generous invitational and inclusive place that is reflected right here by these three wonderful people and all those that they represent in the National Museum of Language. Thank you again for being here.
Gregory Nedved: Thank you.
Laura Murray: Thank you, thank you.
Jill Robbins: It was a pleasure.Become a Sponsor