Just like animals living in the wild, languages can become endangered and even extinct. They become endangered for a variety of reasons—migration and integration are a few of the more common ones—and the consequences are staggering. While there are more than 7,000 languages currently in existence, only about 24 of them are commonly used. That works out to about 0.34%.
Today we're going to introduce five organizations that help preserve endangered languages, but first: What is an endangered language?
What are Endangered Languages?
Two important factors for determining whether a language is endangered are users and usage.
- Users refers to the amount of people that speak a given language. In particular, this statistic refers to the amount of people who speak the language natively.
- Usage refers to the situations in which a given language is used. Some languages are considered to be endangered despite having many speakers because they are only used in special circumstances, such as important ceremonies, rather than everyday life.
Why Does Saving These Languages Matter?
When a language goes extinct, we lose more than just the language.
Languages and cultures are so heavily intertwined that they are practically inseparable. Although it might not be apparent at first glance, each language is a window into a different culture's perspective on life. When a language dies, a whole cultural heritage dies with it.
If you've studied enough languages, you've likely noticed that similar concepts can be expressed in a myriad of ways in different languages. When we protect endangered languages, we protect cultures, ideologies and unique ways of seeing the world.
At Glossika, we think that is a noble and important goal.
These organizations do, too:
Wikitongues is a global volunteer movement with thousands of contributors from all around the world. In this age of social media, we have an unparalleled opportunity to preserve endangered languages. Laws that had previously banned the usage of these languages are being lifted, and the internet has made it easier than ever for people to document their native language(s). The battle isn't won yet, however, as some places lack reliable internet connections or the opportunity to work with trained linguists.
Wikitongues hopes to bridge those gaps by creating platforms and helping people document their endangered native language(s). It is on all major social media platforms (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube), and hosts videos of people speaking minority languages. Wikitongues aims to utilize the power of social media to document these endangered languages and to raise awareness of how important they are.
The Endangered Languages Project hopes to utilize modern technology to slow the pace at which languages are dying. Their website provides detailed information on over 3,000 endangered languages, from the number of speakers a given language has left to the geographical location where it is spoken, plus case studies and other valuable information.
If you happen to speak any of these languages, you can contribute to the Endangered Languages Project and become a partner by submitting information about your language(s) in the form of text, audio, or video recordings.
The Endangered Language Project website also features a world map with icons that indicate the representation of each language around the world.
Glossika is an AI based language learning platform that provides resources for learning more than 60 languages—and counting. Recently the company launched Viva, an online platform designed to collect recorded data from native speakers around the world.
Similar to the Endangered Language Project's website, Glossika Viva also features a world map that indicates the geographical location and vitality of various languages. However, Glossika Viva includes all languages, not only endangered ones.
With the slogan, "Help the world learn your language," Glossika Viva is designed to deliver the highest quality content to learners. Contributors on Viva can translate sentences of varying degrees of difficulty and record their translation; they can also check the work of other contributors for accuracy. In exchange, contributors share a portion of the revenue earned when learners use their material to practice a language.
Glossika hopes that the launch of Viva will make it easier to learn any language in the world, including endangered ones, by offering an intuitive platform and incentivizing native speakers to share their language.
Wycliffe Bible Translators is a Christian organization with a goal to start work on Bible translations in every active language by the year 2025. While the main aim of the organization isn't to preserve or revitalize endangered languages, Wycliffe nevertheless plays an important role in preserving and documenting languages used by minority groups all over the world through the translation of Bibles.
Wycliffe requires their missionaries to go through expert linguistic training, then learn the target language through immersion. In cases where the language doesn't have an existing writing system, the Bible translators will work with local native speakers to create a writing system that suits their preferences.
This process plays an important role in saving endangered languages because it helps the native speakers to document their language, and as a bonus, translated Bibles provide a well-known text that others can use to learn the endangered language.
Our Mother Tongues was founded by award winning filmmakers and producers that are known for making documentaries discussing the lives of Native Americans. The organization focuses on Native American tribal languages—all of which are endangered. Their main goal is to raise awareness about these languages through articles, recordings, and films about what communities are doing to preserve and revitalize their languages. In some cases, a given language might not have had a fluent native speaker for more than a century. Thanks to their hard work, however, the younger generations are now learning their mother tongues, and in some cases, new words are being created to help the languages adapt to modern times.
Our Mother Tongues' website hosts footage from documentaries about Native Americans and how their communities are working to revitalize their language, video clips of Native Americans speaking about the enlightenment they've found from learning their own mother tongue, and videos of linguists speaking about the importance of learning one's mother tongue.
One of the most interesting features on the site is ePostCards. This feature allows you to send a postcard to a friend with a greeting written in a Native American language.