The Intersection of Language and Heritage

By Casey Ryu, University of Rochester

As a Linguistics and Archaeology, Technology, and Historical Structures double major, it has been quite fascinating to see the intersection between language and cultural heritage with my VSFS internship at the Smithsonian Cultural Rescue Initiative (SCRI). My main contribution as an intern has been cleaning data for cultural institutions in different geographic areas primarily within the United States. I think that the general public has an inherent bias believing that archaeological digs take place in countries outside of the United States. This idea perhaps stems from the exciting and luxurious excavations in Egyptian tombs or the majesty of the terracotta warriors in China. These sites are all important, but even here in the United States we have an abundance of archaeological research that holds importance and can be viewed in a variety of museums across the nation, including the Crystal River Archaeological Museum in Tallahassee, Florida. This internship has offered me the chance to see the range of cultural sites that exist here and how each is quite unique in mission and purpose.

Although we have yet to conduct phone calls with representatives of the cultural institutions, we’ve been made aware of the significance of proper communication with those affected. The people we would be contacting have suffered from trauma and stress, so we must be careful with the way we talk with them. This relates to my linguistics major as I took a class on sociolinguistics, where we apply sociological principles to a linguistic setting. This prior knowledge helps me understand how people of different gender, sexual orientation, race, socioeconomic background, age, and geographic location all have different ways of speaking, no matter how minute. Similarly, it is important to note sensitivities when speaking with disaster survivors.

For the future, I hope to work at a museum to present informative, yet challenging perspectives with the interpretation of the artifacts presented. I believe this internship has given me a better understanding of how cultural institutions have a network of support in protecting their cultural heritage from the threats of natural disasters. These nonrenewable cultural resources hold significant information related to history, people, and cultural values. I have enjoyed my internship so far with SCRI and look forward to continuing this work.


A student conducting archaeological research on the campus of St. Mary’s College of Maryland.