Google Site Helping Save Endangered Languages

When a language is lost, so is a culture, along with its speakers’ stories, their beliefs, their courtship rituals, their spirituality and their history. All that is unique about a particular group of people disappears when their language is lost. With half the world’s languages expected to disappear by the turn of the century, Google is putting its technology at the service of those whose languages are in danger of extinction.

The video (below) that explains the project has this to say about why the work is so important:

Language loss is often related to oppression and injustice. For these communities, preservation of their language is about the restoration of their cultural identities, their values and their heritage.

So Google is collaborating with the newly formed Alliance for Linguistic Diversity to create a digital library for speakers of endangered languages and those who care about them. “Endangered languages” is a space for people “to record, access, and share samples of and research on endangered languages, as well as to share advice and best practices for those working to document or strengthen languages under threat.”

Scroll around the Google map to see which languages are at risk. In my own part of British Columbia, the Shuswap and Okanagan languages are “severely endangered.”

When I click on the red dot closest to my home town, the language name appears. I learn there are 11 variants and dialects of Shuswap. I can listen to a traditional greeting song, learn pronunciation and find a beginning course in Colville-Okanagan Salish.

Next: Video Shows Why This Matters

“CBC News” spoke with Anthony Aristar, a linguistics professor who co-directs Eastern Michigan University’s Institute for Language Information and Technology. He helped create the Endangered Languages site and gives an example of what can happen because of it:

One person, for example, in Australia produced a series of rock songs in his language, and these became very popular in the aboriginal community that he was involved in and actually encouraged some people to actually start learning the language that they had lost.

The Internet facilitates this kind of collaboration in ways that would never have been possible before the World Wide Web became a public playground. The whole initiative rests on the willingness of indigenous peoples to share their knowledge and on the work of universities, non-profit organizations and now Google to ensure that knowledge is not lost.

For the next three years the site has funding from the U.S. National Science Foundation, the Institute for Language Information and Technology and the University of Hawaii. That’s three years to generate the kind of excitement the project deserves, so that funders will come forward to ensure it continues.

Related Care2 Stories

3 Endangered Languages Preserved on YouTube (Video Slideshow)

The Endangered Language List

Can the Internet Save Endangered Languages (Video)

Photo 1 from Endangered Languages Web site; Photo 2 from promotional video

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Kerstin S.
Kerstin Strobl2 years ago

Good idea, thank you google

Lisa D.
Lisa d.2 years ago

A great thing!

Prentise W.
pre,tpse w.3 years ago

When a dominant culture takes over another, it further weakens the conquered one by forbidding them from speaking their own languages, as with the American Indians and native Hawaiians. It also means a loss of native knowledge, which is a loss to the planet.
This is a great project.

Isabel Ramirez
Isabel Ramirez3 years ago

Glad Google is helping out:)

Claire Jordan
Claire Jordan3 years ago

Languages are also very important because it's difficult to think about something you can't say. There's a book called Blackfoot Physics which is about just that - specifically, that it's much easier to speak, and therefore think, about advanced physics in some Native American languages than it is in English or German. It's much easier to talk about psychic issues in Asian languages than in English, easier to write poetry in Gaelic but much easier to discuss colours in English than Gaelic, and so on.

Christine C.
Christine C.3 years ago


Bobbie Hensley
Bobbie Hensley3 years ago

so cool!!!

ida w.
ida I.3 years ago

i think we all should have a common tongue but keeping record of histories is very important too!

Tim U.
Tim Upham3 years ago

It is tragic how many Native Americans I meet, and talk about the languages of the specific group of people they belong to. To get responses like "I do not know. I guess so. You know more about this then I do." The tragic thing is I am not Native American either. But when we lose a language, we lose a culture. Native American languages just cannot be preserved in the United States through the names of states, cities, rivers, lakes, mountains, and wildlife. Reservation schools are now involved in language immersion programs, and such programs like these should be supported by all Americans. I have seen the exact same situation in Australia too.

Ian Fletcher
Ian Fletcher3 years ago

Language = Culture. When we learn a few words in any language, we are helping cultural diversity and all the moreso if that language is endagered.