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, through 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 be moved by the rhythm of words and lyrics. They'll meet professional linguists and participate in cutting-edge research in our language 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 find a permanent home in 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 Spring 2020.
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.
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.
Adam Bradley – Professor of English, University of Colorado Boulder; director of the Laboratory for Race & Popular Culture (the RAP Lab); author of Book of Rhymes: The Poetics of Hip Hop; The Poetry of Pop; and One Day It’ll All Make Sense, a memoir written for rapper and actor Common; editor of The Anthology of Rap
Cindy K. Chung – Principal Research Scientist, 7 Cups; social psychological assessments of language and well-being
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
Ben Folds – Genre-bending singer-songwriter, composer, and multi-instrumentalist; Artistic Advisor to the National Symphony Orchestra; author of A Dream About Lightning Bugs
Candace Kaleimamoowahinekapu Galla – Assistant Professor of Indigenous Languages & Education, Faculty Associate in the Institute for Critical Indigenous Studies (First Nations & Endangered Languages Program), University of British Columbia; Hawaiian and indigenous language revitalization
John Huehnergard – Former Professor of Semitic Philology, Harvard University, and Professor Emeritus of Middle Eastern Studies, University of Texas at Austin; Semitic languages, historical linguistics, and writing systems
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 – Senior Vice President of Operations & Experience, COSI (Columbus Center of Science and Industry); former director, Museum of Ohio Project; former Executive Director, Smithsonian Early Enrichment Center (SEEC); former Senior Vice President and Chief Strategy and Operations Officer, COSI
Michael Macovski – Associate Professor, Communications, Culture and Technology (CCT), Georgetown University; literary criticism and textual studies
Gretchen McCulloch – Internet linguist and author of Because Internet: Understanding the New Rules of Language; Resident Linguist at Wired and co-creator of Lingthusiasm, a podcast that’s enthusiastic about linguistics
Erin McKean – Lexicographer, founder of the online dictionary Wordnik, author of the “Weird and Wonderful Words” series
Cecile McKee – Professor of Linguistics, 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 University and director of multimedia initiatives including online courses for credit, professional development for teachers, and the public television series Poetry in America
Barry Slaughter Olsen – Associate Professor of Translation and Interpretation, Graduate School of Translation, Interpretation and Language Education, Middlebury Institute of International Studies (MIIS) and co-founder of InterpretAmerica; translation, interpreting, multilingual communication, and technology
Daniela K. O'Neill – Professor of Psychology, University of Waterloo; how language and social cognition develop in early childhood and the assessment of young children's use of language
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 award-winning novels including Long Way Down, Ghost, and All American Boys; 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
Andrew Robinson – Author of many books, including The Story of Writing: Alphabets, Hieroglyphs and Pictograms; Lost Languages: The Enigma of the World’s Undeciphered Scripts; Writing and Script: A Very Short Introduction; and Cracking the Egyptian Code, a biography of Champollion
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
Clint Smith – PhD 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 and Professor of Linguistics, Georgetown University; the role of language in relationships at home and at work, cross-cultural communication including gender and regional differences, the discourse of new media; author of You Just Don’t Understand and many other books about how ways of speaking affect relationships
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 – Professor Emerita in the Ethnic Studies Department of the University of California San Diego; researcher in 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; editor of Multilingual San Diego and Multilingual Philadelphia, written by her students
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