Beyond Words: Dictionaries and Indigenous Languages

2019, Canadian Language Museum, Culture, Exhibition, History
Canada, colonialism, communities, dictionaries, history, Indigenous, language, Mohawk
About This Project

Date: May 7, 2019 – travelling exhibition

Partner: Canadian Language Museum

Location: Bissell Building

Project Members: Briahna Bernard & Stephen Shurgold

Beyond Words: Dictionaries and Indigenous Languages highlights the complex relationship between Indigenous languages and dictionaries over several centuries, from word lists and dictionaries developed for exploration, colonization, conversion and assimilation purposes, to online language materials being developed by Indigenous communities to transmit the elders’ language knowledge to today’s youth.


The exhibition is intended for a wide variety of audiences including university students and Indigenous communities. The exhibition will attend the Congress of Humanities and Social Sciences 2019 where it will interest attendees who may way to tour the exhibition.


The exhibition will open at the Faculty of Information at the University of Toronto on 7 May. From there, it will go to Congress and will continue to make a stop at the Lennox & Addington County Museum and Archives in Napanee, Ontario and many other venues.


We had several institutions which supported the project throughout its development. The University of Toronto iSchool provided assistance in locating material, navigating copyright, and provided funding for the project. The Canadian Museum of History in Gatineau, Quebec also assisted in locating images for the exhibit and provided free access and use of images. We also had the assistance of several academics who provided expertise on the contemporary Indigenous dictionary creation process. Tom Snow, Callie Hill, and Amos Key were instrumental in providing this assistance and enabled the project to come to fruition.


Planning the Beyond Words: Dictionaries and Indigenous Languages project began in October 2018. The research took four months to complete. Beginning in early December, we began to write the text for our panels, by February 2019, the text was finalised and submitted to the translators for French translations. Interactives and printing were carried out in mid to late April and ready for the opening in May 2019.


This exhibition is mounted on six large double-sided banner stands and will be deployed alongside a tablet with interactive components. This exhibit is travelling and is meant to be easily packed within two bins. One of these bins will then be easily transformed into a table that allows the tablet to be mounted securely and used by visitors. Set up includes simply setting up the banner stands and tables which can be arranged in a number of ways suited to the space hosting the exhibition. The interactive tablet will have a multimedia component that allows visitors to hear languages being spoken or see how language tools are created and used today.


A vast majority of the marketing and programming for Beyond Words: Dictionaries and Indigenous Languages has been carried out by the Canadian Language Museum’s Director Dr Elaine Gold and other staff. The project has been mentioned on the CLM’s website, newsletters and social media pages. Some advertising has also come from the Faculty of Information’s Master of Museum Studies exhibition poster, website and various promotional newsletters and social media posts through MUSSA.


The exhibit will be toured across Canada for a number of years alongside the other exhibits produced by the CLM in the past. It is hoped that the project gains attention at Congress 2019 in Vancouver and those that see it will be interested in hosting the exhibition for a period of time at their institution.


We would like to thank our sponsors, especially the individuals involved in contemporary Indigenous language revival projects for helping us realize this project. We would also like to thank the many linguists who edited the panels for the project to ensure the language used reached both academic and non-academic audiences