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Language Museums and Intangible Cultural Heritage (ICH)

Updated: Feb 6

In an ever-changing society, museums are essential for the well-being of communities worldwide. These institutions serve as repositories of artifacts and historical treasures while also fostering healing, community cohesion, and individual well-being through the therapeutic power of reflecting on artifacts.

Museums hold a wide range of exhibit objects, each with its own story and cultural importance. These objects, in addition to therapeutic experience, are connecting us to the past while helping us better understand our own identity. Displaying diverse cultural exhibits can help individuals to explore and reconcile their global identities. Research indicates that exposure to art and cultural artifacts almost without exception positively impacts mental health by stimulating cognitive functions and releasing neurotransmitters that promote the overall well-being.

In addition, museum exhibits are often places for quiet contemplation and practicing mindfulness. Museums provide a tranquil setting needed for engaging in mindful observation or escaping the daily grind. Numerous museums offer art therapy programs and collaborate actively with mental health organizations to provide therapeutic sessions through the practices of social prescribing. These programs have proven to be effective in helping individuals cope with stress, trauma, and emotional challenges.

The social healing museum could create deepens community dialogue by improving the understanding social issues. Creating opportunities for individuals to share diverse perspectives is the cornerstone of empathy. Consequently, museums play a crucial role in acknowledging and addressing historical traumas by presenting exhibits that confront difficult chapters of history. By increasing awareness, understanding, and reconciliation, museums are actively contributing to social healing processes.

What if museums don't have physical objects? What if the artifacts are intangible but still culturally significant?

To address the issue of intangible assets UNESCO launched initiatives in 2003 to define and preserve "intangible cultural heritage" (ICH). Among identified assets, language was recognized as a primary conduit for transmitting almost all types of ICH. The current domains of ICH include oral traditions, language, performing arts, social practices, rituals, festive events, knowledge about nature and the universe, and traditional craftsmanship. As we approach the twentieth anniversary of the 2003 ICH Convention, it is an opportunity for us to reflect on the influence and importance of living heritage and the languages that convey it, both locally and on a global scale.

Fortunately, in the past two decades, several progressive Museums, including one at the Glendon College, York University in Toronto, Canada, have prioritized the creation of exhibition and interaction spaces centered particularly around languages. At the moment there are more than 30 language museums throughout the world, some with a focus on revitalizing Indigenous languages while others focusing on official languages. These language museums have become important spaces for exploring the ICH aspects of cultural heritage. They provide opportunities for individuals to learn about, celebrate, and preserve languages that are often at risk of being lost. By showcasing the diversity and richness of language, these museums contribute to our collective well-being and understanding of our diverse communities. Through original, interactive exhibits, workshops, and educational programs, they also promote language revitalization and encourage meaningful connections between individuals and their linguistic heritage.

The above mentioned Canadian Language Museum in Toronto, led by accomplished scholar and visionary, Dr. Elaine Gold, is a notable example of this movement and we feel extremely privileged to showcase their work IN Ottawa at our 2024 Language Advocacy Days and online.

(free virtual event)

February 21, 2024 -

International Day of Mother Language


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