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Blending Words: Toward a Festival of Languages

Vibrant line art of an ear and an open mouth, separated by a forward slash

Published December 18, 2023

A Kahn Institute Short-Term Project

Wednesdays, February 28, March 6, & March 13, 4:30–7:30 p.m.

Organizing Fellows

Reyes Lázaro, Spanish and Portuguese, World Literatures, Translation Studies
Chris Golé, Mathematical Sciences
Abril Navarro, Learning, Research and Technology

Project Description

All Smith faculty and staff interested in Smith’s many languages and matters of linguistic exchange and language inclusion are invited to participate in three seminar meetings this Spring (2024). Each meeting will entail two hours of discussion and one hour for dinner. 

The Smith community is a multilingual one and contains an immense wealth of languages that we rarely hear or see. We are unaware of how many languages silently coexist on our campus at any given moment, in class, at an event, in the kitchens, or in houses. We frequently go through our day encountering only one language—English. This seminar and campus event highlights this social monolingualism as an opportunity for an academic institution to celebrate our multilingual campus. Social multilingualism equalizes power structures on campus by making the user of a language, regardless of rank or position, a source of knowledge. It also provides a great opportunity for exposing students to new languages and to develop a sense of the variety of the world’s languages. 

The aim of this seminar is to provide the intellectual foundations for planning a Fall 2024 event to celebrate and experience the use of all languages among students, staff, and faculty. The Fall festival of Smith languages allows us to embrace the many ways we participate and experience speaking and listening in different languages. To facilitate this process, we start with the premise that comprehension precedes production, that is, a willingness to receive another person’s message is key to enabling communication. We plan to create a Smith “festival” of voices that elevates and makes visible sounds of the many and diverse languages used by our campus community. To this end, our event in Fall 2024 will playfully nudge Smith community members to speak, listen, and participate (as much or as little as they want) in conversations incorporating more than one language. 

The inspiration for this project comes from “Euskaraldia,” (“A season of commitment to Basque”) an 11-day long biannual (2018, 2020, 2022) linguistic event created in the Spanish Basque Country to encourage the regular use of “Euskera” by reverting the social tendency to exclusively use the dominant (Spanish or French) language and encourage bilingual Basque-Spanish conversations. Euskaraldia volunteers sign up to be either a “Mouth” (i.e., active speaker) or an “Ear” (a listener who requests to be spoken to in Basque even when not responding to it. A person’s chosen role is indicated by wearing a button.

In the Fall of 2024, we aim to create something like the “Euskaraldia” to remind Smith of the variety of languages the community contains and make those heard through educational activities and playful events inclusive of faculty, staff, and students. We intend the Fall festival of Smith languages to be a transformational activity for the Smith campus, normalizing bilingual conversations, communicating in languages other than English, and increasing joyful awareness of the languages spoken by our community members.

For the Kahn Project 3-day planning stage, members of the faculty and staff interested in the linguistic variety of Smith, showcasing Smith languages across the campus, and processes of linguistic marginalization are invited to apply. You will be contributing to the creation of a transformational celebration and festival of languages. Users of all languages—signed and spoken—are wholeheartedly invited. It is not necessary to be multilingual to participate.

If you have questions about the project, please feel free to contact us for more information. To join the conversation, please complete this form by Monday, January 22. Applicants will be notified about their acceptance by Friday, January 29 and will need to confirm their attendance by Friday, February 9.