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Bridging Cultures and the Power of Language

Agency-wide projects support language exploration, translation, and documentation. The Organization of American States recognized Documenting Endangered Languages as a model program for promoting inter-cultural dialogue and respect for cultural diversity.

April 4, 2012 | By NEH Staff

Over the course of the Endowment’s history, many projects related to Bridging Cultures themes have been an important part of NEH’s support for the humanities, and applications for projects aligned with Bridging Cultures continue to be welcome in all programs throughout the agency. 

One theme that emerges from the agency-wide projects is the power of language.  The Endowment supports a wide array of projects specifically related to the exploration and preservation of language, including dictionaries, translations, digital archives, and summer institutes for educators, among many others. 

Some recent highlights include:

  • Documenting Endangered Languages (DEL), a joint program of the NEH and NSF, was recognized by the Organization of American States as a model program for promoting inter-cultural dialogue and respect for cultural diversity.  Endangered languages represent a vast repository of human knowledge about the natural world and cultural traditions and constitute an irreplaceable treasure, not only for the communities who speak them, but also for scientists and scholars.  According to NEH Chairman James Leach, “Language is integral to what makes us human. When a language disappears before it is documented, it limits our understanding of the way that people interact with their social and natural environments. By supporting the creation of dictionaries, grammars and digital archives, the DEL program preserves and makes accessible a rich set of cultural information that reflects the traditions and accumulated wisdom of peoples who have lived and thrived on our shared planet.” DEL is included in the OAS 2012 Portfolio, Culture, Common Denominator for Development: 18 Successful PracticesView the DEL guidelines.
  • The Dictionary of American Regional English, known as DARE, was recently completed after fifty years of research, recording, and analysis.  This valuable reference resource produced by the University of Wisconsin-Madison allows us to explore the rich regional variety of the spoken and written word across America. Read the March 8, 2012 NEH press release.  Read the article, Words of America, in the September/October, 2011 issue of HumanitiesConsult DARE, listen to audio recordings, and take a quiz.
  • Translations.  NEH provides grants to translate into English significant texts or documents that provide insight into the history, literature, philosophy, and artistic achievements of other cultures. Translation projects are undertaken by a project team and usually provide introductions and annotations that contain essential information about the form, transmission, and historical and intellectual context of the texts and documents involved.  Grants support editions and translations of significant literary, philosophical, and historical materials, but other types of work, such as musical notation, are also eligible.  Since 1980, NEH has awarded $218 million for 924 translation projects. NEH translation grants have enabled scholars, working independently or in collaboration, to render into modern English more than 500 modern works from in excess of 100 languages—including The Diaries of Count Harry Kessler, 1880-1918; The New Netherland Project; and An Early Modern Dialogue with Islam.

Bridging Cultures is an agency-wide initiative, engages the power of the humanities to promote understanding and mutual respect for people with diverse histories, cultures, and perspectives within the United States and abroad.