WASHINGTON – The National Mall of Washington D.C. between the White House, Congress and the Lincoln and Jefferson Memorials, is welcoming hundreds of people these days who speak and sing such endangered languages as the Andean Quechua that the Incas spoke, Mexican Zapotec, Colombian Arhuaco and many more.
Under the title “One World, Many Voices,” the 47th annual Folklife Festival of the Smithsonian Institute plans to raise visitors’ awareness about the importance of linguistic diversity and the critical situation that has many of the world’s languages considered “in danger of extinction.”
“I grew up speaking Quechua and I’m proud to show here how great and beautiful this language is,” said Bolivian Roberto Sahonero, director since 1969 of the traditional Quechua music group Los Masis, with which he came Friday to play in the center of Washington.
“Though things have been looking better in recent times, I’m still worried about the future of the language. Its survival is never going to be guaranteed,” he said.
The UN estimates there are currently more than 7,000 “living” languages in the world – languages that have people who speak them fluently – but warns that by the end of this century practically half of them could have disappeared.
In several dozen stands on the grass of the National Mall, the 18 threatened languages and cultures represented in the festival will be presented by means of lectures, music, dance, handicrafts and cooking.
Noteworthy among these, besides Quechua, are the Zapotec tongue, spoken by several indigenous peoples in the states of Oaxaca and Veracruz, Mexico, and the native languages of Colombia: Arhuaco, Wayuu, Camsa, Huitoto and Palenquero.