Language is what makes us human. From earliest childhood we weave our words into speech to communicate. At Planet Word we inspire and renew a love of words and language through unique, immersive learning experiences.
The Big Issue
In the 21st century, first-rate literacy skills are more and more essential. The very strength of a democracy depends upon a literate population to understand and address the complex issues of the day. But in the U.S., all the trends are moving in the wrong direction: too many adult Americans cannot read at a functional level; fewer people read for pleasure or subscribe to a daily newspaper; reading scores on standardized tests have stagnated; our political discussions too frequently descend into diatribe, not dialogue.
Lacking fundamental reading skills, a significant number of Americans are being left behind. Too many Americans are unable to read recipes, medication labels, and job applications or perform the basic reading tasks that so many of us take for granted. We aim to help change that by making language and the language arts an integral part of the American experience in Washington, D.C.
What We Have to Offer
We’ll take our guests on an immersive journey that will awaken a love of language that will last a lifetime! We’ll show every visitor the fun of words and language everywhere they look – from the menu in the café to the walls in the bathrooms to the floors and the stairwells. And by welcoming readers of all ages and at all language levels, including non-English speakers, Planet Word is truly for everyone.
Many surprises about words and language await at Planet Word. Visitors will engage in activities that make words and language exciting with delightful programming and playful, interactive exhibits. Opportunities for self-expression and intense listening ensure that no one will leave Planet Word without finding the fun in how we joke, sing, speak, read, and write every day. Visitors to Planet Word will realize that words really do matter, and that they can be humankind’s most powerful tools.
Innovative, playful and immersive exhibits and experiences will beckon visitors to explore the power of words. Through multi-sensory and physical activities, makerspaces, listening and conversation, Planet Word will inspire and renew a love of words and language, leaving visitors eager to return over and over again.
Visitors will create a marketing campaign, watch themselves give a famous speech, or move to the rhythm of words and lyrics. They’ll solve problems with forensic linguistics or visit our in-house language research lab. A full range of programming in the museum’s auditorium will also provide opportunities to explore the world of words. Visitors can hear the hottest spoken-word poets, listen to authors read from their newest books, and enroll in classes on songwriting, storytelling, or sign language. When it’s time for a break, visitors can enjoy a Gutenburger or some alphabet soup at the museum café. To round out a memorable visit, the museum store will offer unique, word-related gifts.
Planet Word is a 501(c)(3) public charity. It was incorporated in Washington, D.C., in 2013 as the Museum of Language Arts, Inc. The museum is thrilled to announce that its new, permanent home will be the historic Franklin School, at the corner of 13th and K streets in the heart of Washington, D.C. The school, the site of one of the earliest co-ed high schools and teacher-training institutes, was also the site of Alexander Graham Bell’s transmission of a “photophone” message, a precursor to today’s fiber-optic communications. The school’s striking architectural details add to the building’s national landmark status. Following sensitive but extensive interior renovations adhering to the strictest historic preservation standards, Planet Word plans to open its doors to the public by winter 2019.
Planet Word’s location in the iconic Franklin School will guarantee its role as a community anchor and cultural magnet in Washington, D.C., one that makes a difference at the neighborhood level and captivates national and international tourists when they visit our nation’s capital.
When we asked Will Shortz, the NY Times enigmatologist what he’d look for in a museum site for PLANET WORD, he had this to say:
You can expect much more word fun and play within Planet Word’s walls and within its digital universe!
Board of Directors
Planet Word is privileged to have the support of talented and experienced board members from across the country. Their leadership in fields as diverse as museum operations, governance, education, real estate, marketing, journalism, literacy, and community partnerships ensures that Planet Word has the guidance and oversight to grow from the kernel of an untested idea to a thriving, world-class institution.
Joseph Sassoon is an Associate Professor at Georgetown University's School of Foreign Service.
Advisory Board Members
The museum's eminent Advisory Board Members represent experts from many diverse fields – linguistics, anthropology, literature, computer science, natural language processing, music, theater, psychology, and more. But what they all share is a true love of words and a curiosity about language. The museum is fortunate to have their enthusiastic support and expertise as we move forward.
Cindy K. Chung – Senior Research Scientist, Intel, Social Psychologist in People Analytics developing language and behavioral assessments for work practice innovation
Linda Coleman – Associate Professor of English, University of Maryland, language, writing, and rhetoric, the language of politics, discourse analysis
David Crystal – Honorary Professor of Linguistics at the University of Bangor, Wales; writer, lecturer, and broadcaster on language and linguistics, with special reference to English
Anne Curzan – Professor of English and Linguistics, University of Michigan, research on the history of English, language and gender, lexicography, and pedagogy
Petra Dierkes-Thrun – Lecturer in Comparative Literature, Stanford University, digital pedagogy in the humanities
Michael Erard – Writer, linguist, author of Babel No More: The Search for the World's Most Extraordinary Language Learners and Um...: Slips, Stumbles, and Verbal Blunders, and What They Mean
Deborah Fallows – Linguist, contributing writer for The Atlantic, and author of Dreaming in Chinese
Dan Jurafsky – Professor and Chair of Linguistics and Professor of Computer Science, Stanford University, computational linguistics and its application to the behavioral and social sciences
Kathrin Kaiser – Cognitive linguist and instructional designer
Kimberlee Kiehl – Director, Museum of Ohio Project, former Executive Director Smithsonian Early Enrichment Center (SEEC), former Senior Vice President and Chief Strategy and Operations Officer COSI (Columbus Center of Science and Industry)
Michael Macovski – Associate Professor, Communications, Culture and Technology (CCT), Georgetown University, literary criticism and textual studies
Gretchen McCulloch – Internet linguist, co-creator of the podcast Lingthusiasm, former Resident Linguist of The Toast, author of an upcoming book about internet language
Erin McKean – Lexicographer, founder of the online dictionary Wordnik, author of the “Weird and Wonderful Words” series
Cecile McKee – Professor of Linguistics and Senior Director of Research Development Services, University of Arizona; cross-linguistic comparisons of language development, children’s language production, collaboration on informal science learning with Children’s Museum Tucson
John McWhorter – Professor of Linguistics, Columbia University; how creole languages form and how language grammars change as the result of sociohistorical phenomena
John Morreall – President of Humorworks Seminars and author of six books on the nature and value of humor, most recently Laughing All the Way
Deborah Morrison – Carolyn Silva Chambers Distinguished Professor of Advertising and director of the University of Oregon’s School of Journalism and Communication advertising program, where she teaches creativity and strategic thinking
Eric Motley – Executive Vice President for Institutional Advancement, Aspen Institute, Henry Crown Fellow, former director of the State Department’s International Visitors office, rare book collector, specialist on lexicographer Samuel Johnson, poet
Elisa New – Powell M. Cabot Professor of American Literature at Harvard and Director of Poetry in America, a multimedia initiative including online courses, professional development for teachers and a public television series
James Pennebaker – Regents Centennial Professor, Department of Psychology, University of Texas at Austin, social psychology of everyday language
Colin Phillips – Director, Maryland Language Science Center and Professor of Linguistics, University of Maryland; psychology and neuroscience of language, language diversity, interdisciplinary research and education
Steven Pinker – Johnstone Family Professor, Department of Psychology, Harvard University, research on language and cognition
Jason Reeder – Arabic linguist, natural language processing, dialectology
Jason Reynolds – New York Times bestselling author of several novels including When I Was the Greatest and As Brave As You; on faculty at Lesley University for the Writing for Young People MFA Program
Bill Rivers – Executive Director of the Joint National Committee for Languages and the National Council for Languages and International Studies, specialist in language and national security, language access, and the language industry
Deborah Ross – Teacher of English as a Second Language, Maryland and Washington, D.C.
Mark Seidenberg – Vilas Research Professor and Donald O. Hebb Professor, Department of Psychology, University of Wisconsin-Madison; cognitive neuroscientist, decades of research in language, reading, and dyslexia
Will Shortz – Enigmatologist, New York Times crossword editor, puzzle master for NPR
Paul Simon – Grammy Award-winning singer-songwriter, musician and composer
Anna Deavere Smith – Actress, playwright, professor, Tisch School of the Arts New York University
Clint Smith – Ph.D. candidate, Harvard University, teacher, writer, 2014 National Poetry Slam champion
Geneva Smitherman – University Distinguished Professor Emerita, Department of English, Co-Founder, Core Faculty and former Acting Director, African American and African Studies, Core Faculty, African Studies Center, Michigan State University, co-author most recently of Articulate While Black: Barack Obama, Language and Race in the U.S. (2012)
Catherine Snow – Harvard Graduate School of Education, Patricia Albjerg Graham Professor; specialist in children’s language acquisition, effective reading instruction, bilingualism, and developing curricular supports for language and literacy
Deborah Tannen – University Professor of Linguistics, Georgetown University; interactional sociolinguistics, the role of language in relationships at home and at work, cross-cultural communication including gender and regional differences, the discourse of new media
Rob Turknett – Senior engineer at IBM Watson and founding member of the Austin Museum of Digital Art; creative technologist, digital humanities and data visualization researcher, and songwriter
Charlotte R. Vaughn – Instructor, Department of Linguistics, University of Oregon; research on speech perception, psycholinguistics, sociolinguistics; public engagement with language science
Miako Villanueva – Associate Professor of Linguistics, Gallaudet University; American Sign Language (ASL), applied cognitive linguistics and community engagement, sign language teaching and sign language interpreting
Laura Wagner – Associate Professor of Psychology, Ohio State University, children's language acquisition, Director of the Language Sciences Research Lab at the Columbus Center of Science and Industry (COSI)
Walt Wolfram – William C. Friday Distinguished Professor of English Linguistics at North Carolina State University, pioneering research on social and ethnic dialects of American English, co-author of American English: Dialects and Variation, producer of materials for public education, including television documentaries and museum exhibits
David Yaun – Long-time IBM Corporate Communications vice president; led global public relations, employee communications and executive speechwriting teams
Ana Celia Zentella – Educational Linguistics, Professor Emerita in the Ethnic Studies Department of the University of California San Diego, researcher in “anthro-political linguistics,” and U.S. Latin@ varieties of Spanish and English, author of award-winning Growing up Bilingual: Puerto Rican Children in New York, and co-author of Spanish in New York: Language Contact, Dialect Leveling, and Structural Continuity
Ben Zimmer – Linguist, lexicographer, all-around word nut; language columnist for The Wall Street Journal and contributing editor to The Atlantic; former columnist for The Boston Globe and The New York Times Magazine; recipient of the Linguistic Society of America's first ever Linguistics Journalism Award