Google is funding a project designed to promote languages in danger of fading away. The search giant is producing a series of tools, including specialist social network tools, designed to revive interest in the languages. The Endangered Language Project springs from the fact that about half of the 6,000 human languages spoken today are "on the verge of extinction," with few native speakers left alive.
According to the Endangered Languages web site at endangeredlanguages.com, researchers predict there will be no one able to speak these languages by the year 2100, unless special efforts are made to preserve them.
As great as computers have become in making the world a better place, the same computers have also contributed to the decline of many languages. In the past, people in many areas of the world came into contact only with others living in the immediate vicinity. As a result, their local languages remained useful and vibrant.
The world has changed greatly in recent years, however. Even in remote corners of the world, international trade and communications allow people to talk to others across great distances. Local groups put less emphasis on their native tongues and embrace some of the more popular world-wide languages, particularly those dominant in business, like English and Mandarin.
Google's Endangered Language Project brings together language researchers at universities in Michigan and Hawaii, with other experts. Google currently funds the work, but hopes eventually to hand over control to the academics.
One example is the Miami-Illinois language, considered by some to be extinct. Once spoken by Native American communities throughout what’s now the American Midwest, its last fluent speakers died in the 1960s. Decades later, Daryl Baldwin, a citizen of the Miami Tribe of Oklahoma, began teaching himself the language from historical manuscripts and now works with the Miami University in Ohio to continue the work of revitalizing the language, publishing stories, audio files and other educational materials. Miami children are once again learning the language and—even more inspiring—teaching it to each other.
Daryl’s work is just one example of the efforts being made to preserve and strengthen languages that are on the brink of disappearing.
One of the main aims of the Endangered Language Project is to provide tools to help capture recordings of native speakers. For example, recordings could be made in cases where only a grandparent or great-grandparent within a family still speaks the "old" language.
Another project s to set up social networks that allow speakers of a language to communicate with each other. Experts believe that communication between two native speakers of a language may help uncover more terms, phrases, and grammatical patterns than simply asking speakers of the language to record the terms they can remember.
You can read more in the Google Blog at http://goo.gl/wHCys.
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