Google seeks to save 3,000+ languages from extinction
English, Spanish, French, German, Mandarin… How many different languages can you name? At a guess, probably no more than about twenty, which sounds bad when you consider there are an estimated 7,000 languages being spoken every day somewhere on our planet. The vast majority of these are, of course, virtually unknown, and used by a very small portion of the world’s population.
In fact, according to National Geographic, the 3,500 smallest languages are spoken by just 8.25 million people, and the tiniest of these native tongues are teetering on the brink of being silenced forever. It’s believed that one language dies every 14 days -- as its speakers switch to more common alternatives -- and nearly half of the world’s languages are expected to have been wiped out within a century.
The Endangered Languages Project, backed by a new coalition called the Alliance for Linguistic Diversity, and supported by Google, aims to provide a hub for anyone interested in linguistic diversity to document, preserve and even help to teach the world’s most threatened languages.
Clicking the "Start Exploring" button on the site brings up a world map, with thousands of languages marked on it in the form of colored dots. Green means a language is at risk, yellow means it’s endangered, while red shows it’s severely endangered. There’s also a good portion of grey dots which are described simply as "vitality unknown". You can filter the dots by classification, and by the number of native speakers – this can be Any, 0-100, 100-1000 or 1000+.
Clicking one of the dots will tell you the name of that language, and clicking the heading will take you to its page where you can view a description, any samples (in text, audio or video formats) and view any submitted documents or activity. Perhaps unsurprisingly most of the pages have nothing to show at moment, but it’s very early days.
Although Google oversaw the project’s development and launch, it plans to step aside to allow it to be managed by true language preservation experts, starting with the First Peoples' Cultural Council and The Institute for Language Information and Technology (The Linguist List) at Eastern Michigan University.