Collecting and Exhibiting Language before 1898”. The Fifteenth International Conference on the History of the Language Sciences, ICHoLS XV 23rd – 27th August 2021

Sönmez M. J. M.

Presentation, pp.1, 2021

  • Publication Type: Other Publication / Presentation
  • Publication Date: 2021
  • Page Numbers: pp.1
  • Middle East Technical University Affiliated: Yes


This paper defines, and looks at examples of, the collecting and exhibiting of languages-in-use in the period c. 1600 to 1898, the date of the establishment of the first language museum (Grepstad 2018, 33). Focussing on materials that are generally overlooked in language studies, it discusses how and in what forms language was collected and exhibited in that period, and considers some implications of this evidence in terms related to those of historical cultural linguistics. To this end I present language data from exhibitable objects alongside information and interpretations of language collecting and exhibiting in the British Isles and by British collectors overseas. This examination of hitherto unscrutinized everyday inscribed objects should enrich or at least extend our understanding of the social history of the languages they display. Information about mostly small publications is joined to this data, as they demonstrate a different, but concurrent, manifestation of language collecting. The entire data-set was compiled from entries in online and printed catalogues of connoisseurs and museums, and digitized library collections.

Connections between the entity we call language and the activities of exhibiting and collecting may not be immediately obvious. Pursuing insights gained from work on the Eurotales Museum of European Voices and on Museums of Language and the Display of Intangible Cultural Heritage, I show how inscribed objects demonstrate significant aspects of the linguistic culture of their matrix communities, while the historical activities and methods of collecting and exhibiting language(s)—by definition intangible cultural heritage—reveal the collectors’ models and views of language. In other words, renderings of selected aspects of language into tangible and thence collectible forms can be seen as concrete demonstrations of the linguistic ideologies and the linguistic cultural cognition of both the exhibited objects and the collectors.

KEY WORDS: Language museums, Language as Intangible cultural heritage,  Collecting.