For generations, the language of Tseshaht Nuu-chah-nulth has been spoken by the Hupacasath and Tseshaht First Nations of Vancouver Island. But today, it is estimated that only five people can speak it fluently. This is just one of the many dying languages and dialects spoken by the indigenous people of North America that are in danger of disappearing.
Nearly half of the world’s estimated 7,000 languages are believed to be at risk of disappearing over the next century as cultural norms shift and younger generations turn away from the languages of their elders.
Google.com realizes the importance of language and thanks to their the philanthropic wing of Silicon Valley, Google.org — scholars and educators from around the world are hoping to come together and use the power of the Internet to collect and share data on vanishing languages in an effort to preserve languages and promote dying tongues.
Today, Google will reveal the Endangered Languages Project, a combined effort between Google.org, and Canada’s First Peoples’ Cultural Council (FPCC), as well as researchers from University of Hawaii at Manoa, and Eastern Michigan University.
The website www.endangeredlanguages.com is intended to give individuals who work in the field of preserving languages a central source to access research, share strategies and collaborate on ways to document languages at-risk and dialects through audio clips, videos and other content as well as memorialize the recordings of the rare dialects.
“Here in B.C. we have some language groups that have only two or three speakers left,” said executive director of the FPCC , Tracey Herbert.
In British Columbia alone, 34 languages and 61 dialects are considered to be “endangered,” with many more at risk across Canada.
“Our languages are so incredible and full of fantastic information and knowledge about the land that we live on here, and we really want to capture that traditional knowledge and that information, because it’s really a gift from our ancestors,” Herbert stated.
Although the FPCC has been using technology for some time to record and document dying languages, many of those tools — including CDs, audio cassettes and video tapes — have become useless.
But through the use of the Web, including the FPCC website, and the Endangered Languages Project, Ms. Herbert is hoping to not only to document languages such as Nedut’en, Hailhzaqvla and Dane-Zaa, but to also bring more awareness to the preserving langauges at risk.
According to Jason Rissman, a project manager for Endargered Languages Project at Google, the plan will be to let the experts in the field of language preservation determine the project’s long term direction.
Language is truly very important and as world melds different cultures and more people opt to speak English and slowly push aside their ancestral language, our only hope is that this technology will preserve languages for future generations.
How many languages do you speak? Did your parents or grandparents speak a language that you no longer speak?