New Technologies Aid Endangered Languages

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Due to globalisation, many languages in the world are threatened by extinction. But don’t worry, the Living Tongue Institute is here to come to the rescue! Find out what they are doing to help preserve these endangered languages.

The social media platform Twitter is not just available in English; on the contrary! The website comes in many different languages ranging from European ones such as French and Greek to languages that are spoken a little further away from us such as Dari, a language spoken in Afghanistan.

Most of the available languages and the languages in which the tweets are written have many speakers, but if the Living Tongues Institute has anything to do with it, Twitter could soon be accessed in languages that are a little more unusual.

The Institute and the Enduring Voices Project have teamed up with Global Voices, an initiative of the international blogging community Rising Voices. Together, they have created training sessions called ‘Enduring Voices: Digital Media Workshop for Speakers of Endangered Languages in Latin America.’ These classes, which will be held in Santiago, are intended for speakers of 12 languages that are on the verge of extinction. The languages involved in the programme will come from communities in Paraguay, Chile, the Peruvian Amazon, Mexico, El Salvador, Bolivia and Guatemala. Speakers of these languages will be taught how to document their language by using new technologies such as computers and audio recorders.

One of the reasons for the disappearance of languages is globalization. According to Rising Voices, ‘digital technologies can help document and preserve [the] knowledge found in these languages.’ The community believes indigenous languages should be protected, as their loss would be ‘a drastic change in humanity’s intellectual history.’ National Geographic and the Living Tongues Institute share this opinion: this year, the two organizations have called a ‘Enduring Voices Project’ team into being to map the nearly extinct languages of the world via talking dictionaries. This is a very important task: according to K. David Harrison, a linguist who helped creating the talking dictionaries, these languages contain ‘vast knowledge base, knowledge of plants, animals, how to live sustainably.’ Losing this knowledge would be terrible.

The languages that are now documented are not equally threatened by distinction. The Living Tongues Institute has stated that many South American native dialects are very endangered, while the languages in the Mesoamerican regions are not threatened that much. It is estimated that every fourteen days, another language dies out. If this trend continues, the 7,000 languages that are spoken in the world today will have been more than halved by 2100. Thankfully, the Living Tongues Institute is here to change this around. Thus, we are anxiously awaiting the first tweets in the Mayan mam dialect!

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