Week 16: National Museum of Language


Museum vision: To Educate and Inform – in a National Forum. The National Museum of Language aims to have the impact of a national institution in its efforts to promote a better understanding of language and its role in history, contemporary affairs, and the future. NML brings together diverse language circles – academic, governmental, social, business, scientific, literary, technological – and provides a forum through which they can communicate effectively, focusing attention on language as it relates to all aspects of life, human development and human history.

When I set out to visit the National Museum of Language, located on the edge of the campus of the University of Maryland – College Park , I also planned to stop by the university’s Memorial Chapel and walk the labyrinth, which had been installed since the last time I had been on campus.  I was not thinking of the labyrinth walk as a museum visit; it was just another thing I wanted to do as long as I was in the area.

However, I ended up being struck by similarities between the museum and the chapel, and I decided to write about both here.

National Museum of Language

National Museum of Language

The museum is a tiny but densely filled space that looks at language from an academic angle. During my visit, I played with a computer program that teaches foreign languages, looked at artifacts from around the world such as dolls and fans, and saw many, many books. I watched a PowerPoint presentation on Arabic calligraphy. I think that Arabic is the prettiest-looking language, and indeed, this presentation shows how Arabic writing can be turned into works of art. At one computer station, I got to see what Duncan, Olivia, Edison, and Jack look like when transcribed into other alphabets.

There are two large depictions of languages as part of a large tree. On one wall is a panel showing the family tree of languages: how older languages have evolved into tongues that are spoken today. There is also a flag that shows extinct and extant languages as different shades of green leaves on the same tree.

At NML, I was an explorer, learning about language through the various displays. Recharging would have been hard for me to do in a small space in such close proximity to the staff. The recharging would come on my next stop, at the Memorial Chapel and labyrinth. A sense of personal space afforded by labyrinths, along with the act of walking into the center and back out, can make labyrinth-walking a profoundly restorative experience.

University of Maryland labyrinth

University of Maryland labyrinth

Besides the labyrinth, there is also a peace garden outside the Memorial Chapel, with a Peace Pole stating, “May peace prevail on earth” in several languages. Here, the approach to language is more idealistic and meditative than academic. The presence of multiple languages is indicative of the inclusive vision for peace that the garden represents.

Never having actually been inside the chapel before, I took this opportunity to do so, walking through the larger and more ornate chapel as well as the smaller one with brick walls and wooden rafters. On my way out the door, I noticed two items on the walls. On one wall is a panel with that message again, “May peace prevail on earth,” this time in 27 languages.

Tree of Life at University of Maryland Memorial Chapel

Tree of Life at University of Maryland Memorial Chapel

The other item is a cloth wall hanging depicting the “Tree of Life symbol…of the future, of growth, of hope, of life flourishing.” I was immediately reminded of the language family trees I had just seen at NML. And of course, when I walked outside, I saw real trees everywhere.

These two sites are quite different from each other. Yet both use the multitude of languages in the world, and the symbolism of trees, in what they convey to visitors.

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February’s blog theme is Visitor Motivations.

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About Laura

Paralegal with Master of Arts in Teaching in Museum Education, frequent museum visitor, based in Washington, DC. I care about what museums can do, both in terms of public offerings and internal practices, to make the world a better place. I blog about museum education ("informed"), the social work of museums ("humane"), and visitor experience ("citizenry").
This entry was posted in Weekly Museum Visits Part III and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Week 16: National Museum of Language

  1. Sounds like a fantastic afternoon. What an interesting combination. Thanks for sharing this

  2. Laura DiSciullo says:

    And thank you for commenting! I love museums and labyrinths, so it’s nice to have both in one afternoon.

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