Photo: Map of languages

National Geographic's Enduring Voices Project strives to preserve endangered languages by identifying hotspots.

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Does the city or town in which you live have a neighborhood in which a language other than English is commonly spoken? Are there restaurants that specialize in foods from other countries? If you live in or near a large urban area, is there a mosque or Buddhist temple?

How did these diverse cultural features come to your city or town? The movement of people, goods, or ideas from one place to another is a part of a process known as diffusion. And diffusion plays an important role in shaping the unique characteristics of the places in which we live.

Collecting Data

a) Engage students in a discussion of the process of diffusion. Have them identify cultural characteristics of the local area that may be a result of diffusion, e.g., foods, religions, historic or cultural markers, local place names, celebrations, etc.

b) Gather a set of phone books for your or a nearby city or town. Divide students into small groups and assign each group one of the categories of diffusion that the class has identified. Have students scan listings in the phone books, especially the Yellow pages, to identify specific examples of diffusion in your community or a nearby city.

Presenting the Data

c) Once the students have collected data about diffusion in your community or a nearby city, have them sort the data by country or major region.

d) Now have the students prepare maps that show the source areas for the examples of diffusion that they have identified. Have them add lines to their maps that show that these countries or regions are linked to your local area.

e) Display student maps and lead a class discussion of how your local area has been influenced by diffusion.

Extending the Activity

a) Encourage students to research major diffusion streams that have affected world cultural patterns, such as:

i. the spread of the English language

ii. the spread of major religions

iii. major population movements

b) Have students search the Internet for photos and maps that reflect cultural diffusion. Have them use presentation software, such as PowerPoint, to share their research with the class.

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