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The Museum is open Tuesdays and Saturdays from 10:00 am to 4:00 pm. Open First and Third Sundays, 1 - 4 pm.

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Past Events


Introduction to Arabic Calligraphy

Around the Language World

Beyond Words

Boogeymen, Spirits, and Specters: Stories of Fear, Wonder, and Haunting from Brazil


Chinese Poetry


Emerging American Language in 1812

Family Language Learning

Silent Auction


National Virtual Translation Center

 Oral Literature and Performance in Ancient Israel

Oral Traditions of Quechua

People and Languages of the Middle East




Telegraph to the Internet

World Englishes

Writing an Unwritten Language



Natural Language Processing Research at DARPA

Black American Sign Language

Introduction to Arabic Calligraphy

Sunday, March 3, 2013 - 2 - 4 pm - Presented by Abbas Mousavi, Ph.D.

Dr. Abbas Mousavi is an Iranian linguist who lives in the Washington, DC area. He is a native speaker of Persian-Farsi and earned his PhD in second language assessment from Griffith University, Australia. His passion for Arabic calligraphy goes back to his childhood when he was growing up in the city of Qom, Iran. He specializes in nineteenth century style of Thuluth calligraphy that is used in writing the Quranic chapters and the Hadiths. Largely inspired by the late master Hashim Mohammad Al-Baghdadi, Dr Mousavi’s style displays distinctive micrographic and symmetrical features.

Dr. Mousavi's talk will include a demonstration of some of the technical details involved in artistic calligraphy. He will also exhibit some of his calligraphic artwork.

Oral Literature and Performance in Ancient Israel

Sunday February 3, 2013 2 P.M. – 4 P.M. Presented by Robert Miller


"Oral Tradition" is a phrase that sparks the imagination, and often what is meant by it is little more than imagination. What was literature really like in an oral society? And what is an "oral society" in any case, especially when the term is used for societies long after the rise of writing? This presentation explores the nature of orality and literacy in ancient Israel, the nature of its oral literature, and the ways in which this literature would have been performed and received. View excerpts of this presentation on our You Tube Channel

Robert Miller received his PhD in Near Eastern Studies from University of Michigan in 1998, and is currently Associate Professor of Old Testament at The Catholic University of America. Dr. Miller is the author of several publications on early Israel, most recently his book Oral Tradition in Ancient Israel (2011), which has been followed by several journal articles on oral performance in ancient Israel. Last year, Dr. Miller was elected to membership in the Folklore Fellows, an international scholarly network founded in Finland in 1908.

Natural Language Processing Research at DARPA

April 29, 2012 - 2-4 pm - Bonnie J. Dorr, DARPA Dorr

Bonnie Dorr will speak about natural language progressing research and development programs at the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). Given the vast amount of information in multiple languages and formats, it can be difficult to analyze and determine what is important. Additionally, there is a need to be able to communicate with local populations of foreign countries and non-English speaking allies. To fulfill these language requirements, DARPA is pursuing natural language processing research relying on diverse performers to apply multi-disciplinary approaches to both advance knowledge through basic research and create innovative technologies that address current practical problems through applied research.

Dr. Bonnie J. Dorr joined DARPA as a program manager in 2011. Her research interests are in the area of computational linguistics, specifically machine translation, summarization, dialogue, and semantically informed language understanding and generation. She is also a professor in the Department of Computer Science and at the Institute for Advanced Computer Studies at the University of Maryland. She is the former associate dean for the College of Computer, Mathematical, and Natural Sciences and served for 15 years as co-director of Maryland’s Computational Linguistics and Information Processing Laboratory. She holds a Doctor of Philosophy in Computer Science from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

The Quechua Oral Tradition

March 25, 2012 2- 4 pm Regina Harrison


Regina Harrison will present selected texts of Quechua songs and myths that document the earliest written sources at the time of the Spanish invasion of the Andes as well as contemporary texts obtained through field work among Quechua (Runa) peoples.   Quechua narratives and lyrics reveal a continuity in their conceptual structure, yet also display patterns of assimilation.  A complex semantic parallelism (indicative of Quechua verbal esthetics) persists through the ages, enmeshed with themes of socio-political testimony.  Illustrations and recordings supplement the discussion. Download printable flyer.

Regina Harrison is Professor of Spanish and Portuguese/Comparative Literature and Affiliate Professor of Anthropology at the University of Maryland.  Her first book, Signs, Songs, and Memory in the Andes (University of Texas Press, 1989; Spanish version, 1994), won awards from the Modern Language Association and the Latin American Studies Association.  Author of 25 articles, she also has published Entre el tronar épico y el llanto elegíaco: simbología indígena en la poesía ecuatoriana de los siglos XIX-XX (Quito: 1996).  She produced and directed the video Cashing in on Culture: Indigenous Communities and Tourism (2002).   Mined to Death  (2005), which she directed and filmed, won the "Award of Merit in Film" from the Latin American Studies Association. Her current book-length study of Spanish-Quechua translation in the colonial period was funded by a fellowship from the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation.

Seating is limited, so if you wish to attend, please help us plan by completing the form below.

Book cover 2 Harrison
Book Cover

The "Virtual" in the National Virtual Translation Center


February 26, 2012 2-4 pm Mary Okurowski

Virtualization is increasingly becoming a "new normal" as businesses adopt new strategies to optimize technology and expand networks of skilled workers. Since its establishment in 2003, the National Virtual Translation Center (NVTC) has implemented a virtual model in which a network of professional translators delivers translations to a federal customer base. This presentation provides a "case study" of the NVTC as an instance of a virtual entity and highlights aspects of the translation government business and translation processes that facilitate or impede virtualization. Download flyer here.

Mary Ellen Okurowski is the Director of the National Virtual Translation Center (NVTC) in Washington, D.C. During her career in government service, Mary Ellen has conducted and managed research initiatives in human language technology and in language as the first USG Director at the University Center for Advanced Study of Language. She earned M.A. Degrees from the University of Kansas in Chinese Language and Literature and in Linguistics and a PhD in Linguistics from Georgetown University.

Register here:

From the telegraph to the Internet: How both governments and protesters exploit new communications technologies

January 22, 2012, 2-4 pm - Presented by Irene Wu, Ph.D.

How do activists use communications technology? How do governments influence communications?
While the Internet is still new, using technology to communicate is not. Media are as old as cave paintings. However, the Internet and mobile phones bring something new to politics. Protesters organize by phone and Facebook. Online support groups give strength to those suffering from discrimination. The Internet space is both a new public square and a new private sphere.
New communications technology enables people to participate in a broader array of networks and enables them to deepen and enrich their relationships with people in these networks, more easily and cheaply. The technology facilitates the rise of new communities, enables them to build social capital, and increases the likelihood of collective action. Today that technology may be social media, yesterday it was the mobile phone, before that it was the television, the telegraph, and the newspaper.
This lecture explores these ideas using historical examples from China, India, Brazil, Canada and other countries to examine the political communities enabled by networks of people, machines, ideas, and information. Registration requested, admission is free. Download a flyer to share.

Irene S. Wu is Consumer Research Advisor in the Consumerand Government Bureau of the Federal Communications Commission and is servingon the White House Task Force for Smart Disclosure. Previously, she was Chief Data Office (Acting) inthe International Bureau of the Federal CommunicationsCommission (FCC), where she guided studies on international trends inregulatory policy on telecommunications, Internet, and media. Dr. Wu also teaches at Georgetown University. She is author of the book From Iron First to Invisible Hand: the Uneven Path of Telecommunications Policy Reform in China published by Stanford University Press. Dr. Wu received her B.A. from Harvard University and International Relations from Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS).


Boogeymen, Spirits, and Specters: Stories of Fear, Wonder, and Haunting from Brazil

Sunday, October 23, 2011; 2 P.M. – 4 P.M.
Deborah Schindler

Learn about scary beings who come out at night, forest spirits who punish unwary travelers and victims of spells, curses and transformations.
Brazilian language is an amalgam of characteristics from three major cultural groups: Native American, European and African.  The oral literature of Brazil has absorbed, blended and reprocessed these influences into an incredibly varied body of myths, stories, fables and legends.
This lecture explores different categories of scary stories from Brazil. Few of the stories that will be discussed have been translated into and published in English. (Content may not be appropriate for children.)View excerpts of this presentation on You Tube
Deborah Schindler studied Art and Latin American Studies at U.C.L.A. and The Ohio State University. In 1982, she was awarded the Araujo Castro scholarship for study in Brazil by the Brazilian Embassy in Washington, D.C. For the past 15 years, Ms. Schindler has been active with the D.C.-Brasilia Chapter of Partners of the Americas.  Until recently, Ms. Schindler taught public school in Montgomery County, Maryland.

Peoples and Languages of the Middle East

November 20, 2011; 2 P.M. – 4 P.M.
Michael Chyet

This lecture explores the peoples and languages of the Middle East. The languages are: Arabic, Hebrew, Persian, Turkish, Kurdish, Armenian, Neo-Aramaic. The peoples are: Arabs, Jews, Iranians & Afghans [who are not Arabs], Turks, Kurds, Armenians, Assyrians and Chaldeans. While Iranians [formerly Persians] are primarily Muslims, they see themselves as quite distinct from their Arab co-religionists. There are Arabic-speaking Christians as well: Copts in Egypt, Maronites in Lebanon, Syria and Israel/Palestine.

Michael L. Chyet, Ph.D. is a cataloger of Middle Eastern languages at the Library of Congress. Formerly he was senior editor of the Kurdish Service of the Voice of America and professor of Kurdish at the University of Paris and at the Washington Kurdish Institute. Dr. Chyet is also a trained folklorist, and focuses on Middle Eastern folklore.


Around the Language World

A program for children of College Park & University Park

From July 18 - 21, a day camp program was held for local children presenting culture and language of four countries: China, Japan, Spain & Egypt. Below is a photo of the Chinese dragon dance.

Dragon Dance

NML's Annual Dinner

Sunday, June 26th, 2011 2:00 pm at the Clarion Inn, College Park, MD

This is our main gathering of the year; a chance to meet fellow members and friends of the Museum. The keynote this year was given by Dr Charles Stansfield.

The Amelia C. Murdoch Speaker Series

The series began February 20, 2011 and included these presentations for Winter and Spring:

Black American Sign Language: The Sociohistorical Foundation

Sunday, May 15, 2011 at the National Museum of Language

This presentation is about the variety of American Sign Language known as Black ASL and used by Black signers. The socio-historical reality that made for the emergence of this variety will be described and examples of the linguistic features that characterize this variety will be discussed.
Dr. Ceil Lucas, Professor of Linguistics from Gallaudet University Dr. Lucas’ research interests center around the sociolinguistics of Deaf communities, including issues of sociolinguistic variation within signed languages, issues of bilingualism and language contact, language policy and planning, and language attitudes. She is also interested in the structure of sign language discourse. She is co-director of a project funded by the National Science Foundation on sociolinguistic variation in American Sign Language as well as another National Science Foundation funded project on Black ASL (2007-2011).
Dr. Carolyn McCaskill, Associate Professor from Gallaudet University Dr. McCaskill’s research interests center around multicultural issues in the Deaf community, and Black Deaf history community, and culture. Dr. McCaskill is a recipient of the Thomas and Julia Mayes Award 2005.  She also was selected as a Diversity Fellow in the Provost Office in 2006. 

Download printable flier.

Volunteering and Contributions

Teaching African Languages in the U.S.: A View from Howard University

Sunday, February 20, 2011, 2 - 4 pm. Held at The National Museum of Language.

Dr. James Davis, Chair and Professor for the Department of World Languages and Culture- Howard University,  presents the challenges and issues of teaching African languages in US educational institutions.  He discusses Howard University's African Languages program and the role that it has played in US African language instruction.  Some influences of African languages on other world languages and cultures are exhibited.  Implications and suggestions for future research are included. The presentation concludes with East and West African cultural entertainment/learning experiences.

The Four Official Languages of Spain: An Overview of their Importance

Saturday, March 5, 2011 Time: 10:30 am - 12:30 pm. Held at the City of College Park Chambers

A panel of educators discusses the four languages of Spain: Basque, Catalan, Galician (Gallego) and Castilian (Castellano), the people who speak those languages, the regions in which they live, the cultures, and the changing views within the country. The audience is invited to ask questions, see video showing the beauty of the country, and taste non-alcoholic Sangria.View excerpts of this presentation on You Tube

An Endangered Legacy: Indigenous Language Loss and Revitalization in the United States

October 31, 2010 at 1:00 p.m.

Dr. Erin F. Haynes

The vast majority of the more than 300 languages that were spoken in North America since time immemorial have either ceased to be spoken, or are in imminent danger of being lost. However, many Native American communities are making heroic efforts to save these languages, preserving a cultural legacy that encodes the diversity of America's past, and hopefully, its future. In this talk, Dr. Haynes will discuss the reasons that so many of these languages are endangered, including forced removal and destruction of communities, the infamous boarding schools that Native American children were forced to attend in the 20th century, and the trend in the United States towards monolingualism. She will also discuss efforts that are currently underway to save America's Indigenous languages, including the remarkable stories of two languages that have speakers again, despite being pronounced "dead" decades ago.

Emerging American Language in 1812

May 2, 2010

2 - 4 pm, Main exhibit hall, National Museum of Language, 7100 Baltimore Ave Suite 202., College Park, MD 20740. Join NML friends to celebrate the opening of our new exhibit, funded in part by the Maryland Heritage Areas Authority. Refreshments will be served. Orin Hargraves, lexicographer, author, and expert in British and American English differences, will give an overview of the exhibit at 2:30, followed by a guided tour. Admission is free - no RSVP required.

Beyond Words: The Unlimited Potential of Visual Communication

Presenters: Amy Carattini, Doctorial Student and Dr. Gail Thakur, Sociocultural Anthropologist

The history of the Western Alphabet often begins with a discussion of cuneiform, clay tablets discovered about 5,000 years ago in the Mediterranean that document the pictographic elements upon which the alphabetic writing system has evolved. However, these pictorial forms were eventually abandoned in the West in favor of symbols connected to sound, thus eliminating the need for thousands of pictures to represent mental concepts in which to communicate ideas.

Severing written forms of linguistic communication from their pictorial origins prematurely disengaged us from further developing a visual language already in existence, diminishing the complexity inherent in its form and discarding its linguistic relevance as a language in its own right.

Despite this, the study of visual communication, through other forms, is becoming increasingly salient. This is evidenced by the proliferation of still and moving images in the media, on the street, through the internet, and on television. Furthermore, because technological innovations occur rapidly and regularly, new and creative forms of visual language are continually produced and readily dispersed throughout the world.

We demonstrate how visual languages, aside from words, are composed differently, such as comprising smaller units of analysis through lines, forms, colors, depth, and dynamic movement. Yet, these elements, while not the same as more conventional alphabetic systems, share some important similarities, as well as significant differences, in their communication potential.

This recognition is critical. As we argue, by taking advantage of other specific forms of visual language that are available, and utilizing them interactively with the written word, the reach and depth of communication potential is broadened. This entails both thoughtful selection of written and other visual forms, and careful arrangement, or juxtaposition, of these. Especially in our increasingly interconnected world, this collaboration between the written word and other visual languages may most effectively achieve cross-cultural communication.

Dr. Gail Thakur is a sociocultural anthropologist, who has been an Adjunct Assistant Professor at UMD, and is presently at American University. Her particular research interests are in identity, belonging and its negotiation, and self-representation among marginalized groups.

Informal Language Learning In and Around DC: Families Welcome!

Saturday May 16, 1 - 4 pm

Kaaren Agnez, & Mashinke/Marcia Gruss Levinsohn, Jewish Educational Workshop, Talia Kowitt, University of Maryland.Download flyer

People who want to learn a language outside of traditional classrooms can choose from a wide, sometimes confusing variety of informal local and online resources for many languages. These resources are also available for parents searching for the best methods and environments for their children to acquire second language proficiency. The key is knowing how to integrate language learning into everyday life, leading to fluency. Techniques for individuals or families to use cassettes, online resources, books, computer programs such as Rosetta Stone, and private tutors or group classes are presented and evaluated. Participants' questions will be addressed about their own and their children's interests and experiences in language learning. Mashinke Gruss Levinsohn (bobe mashinke), read a favorite children's book, The Very Hungry Caterpillar, in Yiddish and showed how to help children understand a new language through use of the five senses. Talia Kowitt shared resources available in the International Digital Children's Library.

Paper, Rock, Bone, and Bronze--An Epigraphic Odyssey with Dr. Edward D. Rockstein, L-3 Communications.

Sunday, April 19


Take this odyssey through the learning and experience processes stemming from Rockstein's interest in languages and, most particularly, in the development and evolution of writing systems. His journey goes from Latin, Greek, and Russian to the Korean han'gul 한글 alphabet and Hancha 漢字 Chinese characters used in Korean, the development of the Japanese kana カナ syllabaries, to various Runic scripts with a side journey into Ogham along the way.

Rockstein has had a life-long interest in the decipherment of unknown scripts, in writing systems, and in the origins and evolution of scripts. He stumbled into Norse Runic cryptography and pre-Columbian American epigraphy "by accident." This eventually led him to a long correspondence with Barry Fell, the author of America B.C., Bronze Age America, and editor of the Epigraphic Society Occasional Papers, that prompted him to look into the origins of the Turkic and Hungarian runiform scripts. He eventually studied the Turkic and Hungarian runiform scripts.

The story of the Turkikc 'runes' begins in the early 1700's when inscriptions in an unknown script and language were found on the banks of the Yenisei River in Siberia. They were deciphered with the aid of a bilingual text with Chinese. Early in the 20th century F. Babinger was preparing and editing a text of a 16th-century travel journal which included a transcription of an inscription in "litterae incognitae." Vilhelm Thomsen later identified the script as the Hungarian Szekely script and applied it to decipherment of the Turkic inscriptions from Mongolia. Ed will share some of his experiences and insights while "rambling among the Runes" in this presentation.

From Abyssinia to Addis Ababa: A Live Painting Demonstration with Amharic Characters

Sunday, March 15

Solomon Asfaw

Download flyer

Born in Ethiopia, Solomon Asfaw graduated from the University School of Fine Arts and Design in Addis Ababa and has exhibited his work in Africa, Europe, and the United States.

Solomon will give visitors the opportunity to explore an Ethiopic writing system, the alpha-syllabary, through a live painting presentation. He will create an original art-work, which will be inspired by Amharic characters. Through this presentation, visitors will also be encouraged to investigate the connection between Ge’ez, an ancient Ethiopic language, and Amharic, the dominant language of Ethiopia today.

Finally, this live painting will expose Solomon’s unique perspective as an Ethiopian artist whose interaction with the Amharic script since childhood has become a catalyst for exploring his cultural and life experiences and for seeing how they are transformed on canvas.

Persian Poetry and Calligraphy

Sunday February 22

Ahmad Karimi-Hakkak, Director of The Roshan Cultural Heritage Institute of Persian Studies

Download Flyer

Persian poetry, which has developed over 1400 years, is beloved and known by modern readers for the influence and achievements of poets like Sa'di, Hafiz, Rumi and Omar Khayyam. The Persian language, which uses the Arabic writing system, has spread across Central Asia from its roots in Iran. The beauty of the form of the language as well as the content will be demonstrated by examples of Persian calligraphy. Details will be given of current and future efforts of the Roshan Cultural Heritage Institute of Persian Studies to promote understanding of Persian and Iranian language and culture. Reservations requested by February 20.

Discourses in Dying Languages: My Story With Yiddish

Sunday January 25

Miriam Isaacs, Meyerhoff Center for Jewish Studies, University of Maryland

Download Flyer

What is the place of Yiddish in the context of a globalizing world? The role of Yiddish as a heritage language and its present uses by Jewish and non-Jewish speech communities around the world are considered, including Hasidim at one end of a cultural spectrum and European Christians at the other end. A theoretical description of the instruction of Yiddish and language competition with Hebrew and English will be supplemented by a personal reflection on what it means to be a Yiddish speaker and Yiddish teacher in today's world. Reservations requested by January 23.

World Englishes

October 12 (Sunday)

Rebecca Oxford

University of Maryland. Discover the vast variety of “World Englishes”; how English has spread around the world and how World Englishes can be a two-edged sword, offering gifts and dangers. How do power, oppression, imperialism, and resistance link to World Englishes?

See PowerPoint Here

Lost In Translation: Collaborative Translation of Chinese Poetry

Saturday November 8

Liang Huichun, University of Maryland, & Steven Schroeder, Shenzhen University and the University of Chicago

A guided tour of two translation projects on which the speakers have collaborated over the last several years: translation of Li Nan's Small and translation of poems included in Two Southwests, an anthology of 27 poets from the southwestern United States and southwest China. Liang and Schroeder demonstrate how collaborative translation becomes a conversation out of which a new work emerges. They understand that the translation, inscribed in written form, will always be a new creative work. Liang and Schroeder experiment with treating the poem as music by reading simultaneously in Chinese and English, resulting in an experience of musical improvisation, helping audiences understand what a poem is about, and what we are about when we are making poetry.

Arabic Calligraphy

We have completed our Summer 2008 series of presentations which brought fascinating experts of language into the museum. The photos at left are from the Arabic Calligraphy presentation on August 23rd. We want to thank Amy Carattini, our star volunteer, for organizing this unexpectedly successful series of presentations, and helping the museum to grow by leaps and bounds.

See materials on loan to us in the museum by Dr. Khaled Mohamed.

Writing an Unwritten Language

by David Weber

See Presentations


By Carrie Clarady

See Presentations

Silent Auction

The Museum holds a silent auction each year as part of the annual dinner. We thank the donors of merchandise and services for the 2008 auction. See a complete list here.

Volunteering and Contributions

We are seeking volunteers to act as docents and to assist in other capacities. Readers in the Metropolitan Washington area who may be interested in participating are asked to contact Dr. Pat Barr-Harrison either by telephone at 301-864-7071 or email.

The Museum has received a Community Services Grant from the City of College Park in support of this exhibit, and the Center for Heritage Studies of the University of Maryland as well the Museum of the Alphabet in Waxhaw, NC are also providing technical assistance and funding. These contributions are greatly appreciated but there are many expenses not covered by these grants. Members are encouraged to renew their membership promptly, and if possible to renew at a higher level. Special contributions to celebrate the opening of the Museum will be most welcome. We encourage contributions in honor of or in memory of a friend, mentor or loved one; major donations will be suitably recognized. All such contributions will be published in the Newsletter as appropriate.