Academics and Research / News

Center for World Languages and Cultures to host symposium on endangered languages and cultures

DU’s Center for World Languages and Cultures will host its first symposium, “Last Whispers: The Fate of Endangered Languages and Cultures,” April 4–6.

One language becomes extinct every 14 days, and more than half of the world’s languages — approximately 3,000 — will die in the 21st century, says Kathy Mahnke, the center’s director.

“Last Whispers” will explore the impact of language extinction on culture and humanity.

“Language and culture are so entwined,” Mahnke says. “When a language dies, a cultural practice or idea is then threatened, as well.”

Two graduate students at DU’s Josef Korbel School of International Studies — Nirvana Bhatia and Scott Bleiweis — approached Mahnke with the idea to hold a symposium on the subject.

All students, faculty, staff and other members of the DU community are invited to the symposium. The program’s events include:

–A screening of the documentary The Linguists. The film will be shown at noon on April 4 at the Cyber Café in Ben Cherrington Hall. In the film, two language specialists travel around the world interviewing people who speak dying languages and work with them to document and preserve them.

–A presentation and question-and-answer session with Andrew Cowell, a linguistics and French professor at the University of Colorado-Boulder. Cowell will speak from 5:30 p.m.–7 p.m. April 5 in Sturm Hall’s Lindsay Auditorium. Cowell will present a case study of the Arapahoe tribe, titled “Dying Languages: What is Happening, and What can and Should we do About it? The Case of Arapahoe.” Light hors d’oeuvres and refreshments will be provided. 

–A panel discussion with Bhatia, Bleiweis and other DU graduate students from various areas of study called “Language and Society: Impacts and Dynamic Transformations.” The discussion will cover endangered cultures and languages. The event will be from noon–2 p.m. April 6 at DU’s Humanities Institute in Sturm Hall Room 286. Light hors d’oeuvres and refreshments will be provided.

“The mission of the center is to promote the teaching and learning of all languages and raise awareness of the situations in which all languages find themselves,” Mahnke says.

The center partners with local, national and global communities in their efforts to educate and prepare students to be better global citizens.

For more information about the symposium or the Center for World Languages and Cultures, visit

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