News from our President, Laura K. Murray, Ph.D.
The National Museum of Language is a member of the International Network of Language Museums (INLM), a growing network of nearly 20 language museums from around the world. I attended the group’s most recent online meeting, which was held on June 20, 2023. The main topic was a presentation about Eurotales, an emerging museum based at the University of Rome, which is focused on languages spoken in Europe. The presentation was a collaboration of three scholars who are leading organizers of the Eurotales museum: Professor Nadia Cannata of the University of Rome (La Sapienza), and Professor Maia Wellington Gahtan of Kent State University Florence, and Professor Margaret Sonmez of Middle East Technical University, Ankara. The following report is based on my notes from this presentation, as well as some references noted at the end of the report.
EUROTALES is an acronym for the Linguistic Heritage Lab under development by CIVIS, a European Civic Community, with members at universities in Rome, Brussels, Athens, Paris, Bucharest, Madrid, Glasgow, and Ankara. CIVIS is supported with funding from the European Community. Eurotales is also used as the name for the museum, known formally as the Museum of the Voices of Europe. The primary organizers of the museum are all faculty members at either the University of Rome or universities of affiliated institutions. The University of Rome provides some limited exhibition space on its campus. However, the main work of the museum is its research and development of large databases relevant to their mission of studying and representing the tangible and intangible cultural heritage constituted by the multiple languages used in Europe in the past and at present.
Initially, the developers of this project considered how to conceptualize, visualize, and represent languages across space and time. They decided to focus on geographical spaces rather than individual languages, since Europe is a multilingual space, and few people are solely monolingual. After much thought, they decided to organize their data according to three categories.
“Traces” are tangible representations of language, such are inscriptions on stone markers, monuments, objects, paintings, urban spaces, or any other tangible elements that may serve to retrace the history of language cultures in Europe. They may be considered the building blocks of an archeology of language.
“Resonances” from the past or the present store and collect the unique linguistic identity of individuals, either from historical research on famous individuals, or through interviews with members of the public. This part of the project focuses on collecting the “linguistic culture” of individuals, which may include their mother tongues as well as other languages that they know or use. The public as well as college students from the University of Rome and the affiliated universities are enlisted to assist in the collection of this data.
“Milestones” are items or events which are generally seen as fundamental to the history of any one language. These may be from ancient times and relatively recent times, such as the collapse of the Roman Empire, the unification of Germany in 1870, the first use of English in Parliament in 1362, canonical texts such as Beowulf, Chanson de Roland, etc.
The students who do much of the research for this project are enrolled in courses on museum management or related subjects, and they get course credit for the materials they develop. Students from outside of Rome get a one-week trip to Rome, paid for by the European Union, for a deeper dive into museum work. There is no payment for their work other than getting course credit or the trip to Rome.
The accumulation of this data is an ongoing project. These databases are considered the core “collection” of this museum. Examples of the “Traces” constitute the main body of the physical exhibits in Rome. To the extent that these databases are merged, individuals can explore connections on a website called @Diffuseum. However, the presenters admitted that they are behind on posting their data to their website, with one of the main problems being the massive amount of translation involved. Their goal is that all the data would be available in the original language, as well as in Italian and English.
There was much in this presentation that seemed relevant to our work at the National Museum of Language. First is their effort to cover a multitude of languages and cultures. Second, their effort to include intangible representations of language as the core of their collection, with very limited physical exhibits. Third, their development of a broad network of academic partners across Europe to contribute to their project. One major area of difference is that they have institutional and financial support for their project through their affiliation with multiple universities and the European Union.
Reported by Laura K. Murray
This one-page document is an excellent summary of the Eurotales project.
This is a reference to a chapter about the Eurotales museum written by Professors Cannata, Sonmez and Gahtan in a book published in 2019 under the title Museums of Language and the Display of Intangible Cultural Heritage.