Planet Word Facilitates Conversations on the Language of Gender Identity + Food
May 21, 2021 @ 5:59pm
Language is key to human connection and considered the backbone of society. It comes in many different forms and affects all aspects of our everyday life. From the way we think, feel, share ideas and communicate, to how we express ourselves, language is intertwined in everything we do.
Planet Word, a new museum of words and language located in the historic Franklin School, explores the language of gender identity and the language of food in two events on May 26.
“The museum’s mission is to renew or inspire a love of words and language, to spark that joy and wonder that people feel when they first realize the power of words,” Rebecca Roberts, Planet Word’s Curator of Programming, says.
The museum’s “DIVERCITIES” program, an ongoing series partnered with Shared Studios, is hosting a conversation on Mexico’s southern state, Oaxaca, where there are three genders: female, male and muxes. In indigenous Zapotec language, there are no gendered terms, and muxes have been celebrated since pre-Hispanic times. This event is the first of a series focused on the language of social change.
“We never as a museum wanted to kind of shy away from the more contemporary fast-changing parts of language,” Rebecca Roberts, Planet Word’s Curator of Programming, says. “If you’re not keeping up and talking about a topic that changes, if you decide that you’re never going to update language, you’re never going to be relevant, and gender identity in particular is changing so fast.”
This conversation connects muxes from Mexico with drag queens from Berlin and D.C. and discusses how to challenge barriers between gender identity and gender presentation. It will also touch on how language both permits and restricts gender-based expression.
“It felt like a topic that had broken out of just the usage among people who were changing it themselves, and spread to a broader population of people,” Roberts says. “ People put their pronouns in their email signature or use the singular they. Things that are no longer at the sort of insular, innovation stage and have now become so much more broadly watched and used.”
Planet Word will also explore the language and culture around the hand pie in an event partnered with Immigrant Food in honor of International Cultural Awareness Month. This delicious staple of dough wrapped around something savory is loved in many different cultures and has many different names: samosas, piroshkis, pupusas, pastries, empanadas, Jamaican meat pies and more.
“They’re this ubiquitous cultural artifact, no matter what you call them,” Roberts says.
Roberts will be hosting along with Immigrant Food’s Téa Ivanovic. Afterwards, there will be a live virtual cooking class on how to make traditional Venezuelan arepas with Immigrant Food’s Head of Kitchen, Mile Montezuma. These programs analyze how language affects culture and vice versa and how they are intertwined. Words can take on different meanings in different cultures, and one thing can have dozens of names.
“Language is culture and food is culture,” Roberts says. “Culture is behavior that is passed on, rather than inherited genetically, and behavior that is passed on is really malleable. And really, [is also] subject to local influence. So [is] something like food where you tend to be cooking with ingredients you have nearby.”
Language is ever changing and you are constantly innovating it with the people you speak with. This is why families have their own weird nicknames for things because they remember when their baby mispronounced it, according to Roberts.
“The overlap between language and food is just enormous, and really delightful and weird in a lot of ways.” Roberts says. “There is a much more complex answer that I’m really looking forward to exploring but the short answer is, language is culture and food is culture.”
“DIVERCITIES: Breaking Barriers-The Language of Gender Identity” takes place online on Wednesday, May 26 at 11 a.m. Register and learn more here. “The Language of Food: Arepas and Other Hand Pies (with Cooking Demo!)” takes place on Wednesday, May 26 at 6:30 p.m. Register and learn more here.
For more information on Planet Word, their mission, and other upcoming events, visit www.planetwordmuseum.org and follow @planetworddc on Instagram.
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