In this month’s edition of Mapping For Good, we’re covering a topic we’ve addressed many times in the year since this column first began: conservation. The world conservation usually conjures up images of endangered animals or threatened habitats being protected, and certainly those are valid examples and ones we’ve discussed here before. This month, however, we’re highlighting a totally different form of conservation: the protection and restoration of endangered languages. Yes, languages!
Didn’t know that languages were dying out? Then you probably didn’t know that of the world’s 7000 or so languages, 40% are at risk of disappearing. Forty percent! So why should you care and what’s being done about it? The Endangered Languages Project is here to help, and has done a great job of summarizing why the issue they’re battling is important to everyone:
“Humanity today is facing a massive extinction: languages are disappearing at an unprecedented pace. And when that happens, a unique vision of the world is lost. With every language that dies we lose an enormous cultural heritage; the understanding of how humans relate to the world around us; scientific, medical and botanical knowledge; and most importantly, we lose the expression of communities’ humor, love and life. In short, we lose the testimony of centuries of life.” – Taken from About page of the Endangered Languages Project
The Endangered Languages Project puts technology at the service of the organizations and individuals working to confront language endangerment by documenting, preserving and teaching them. The group’s website allows its users to not only access the most up-to-date and comprehensive information on endangered languages as well as language resources being provided by partners, but also plays an active role in putting their languages online by submitting information or samples in the form of text, audio or video files. People from all over the world have uploaded sound bites and writings in languages that often have less than 100 speakers still alive!
What does this have to do with maps? Well, it’s one thing to talk about languages and upload information on their statuses, but the Endangered Language Project has taken it a step further. With the help of Google, the team created a comprehensive map that shows the locales in which each of the several thousand languages documented on the site are located. Hovering over a point brings up a table full of quick facts and users are able to go to that particular language’s profile to find more detailed information as well.
The development and launch of the Endangered Languages project was overseen by Google with a long term goal for it to be led by true experts in the field of language preservation. As such, oversight of the project transitioned to First Peoples’ Cultural Council and the Institute for Language Information and Technology at Eastern Michigan University. The project is now managed by First Peoples’ Cultural Council and the Endangered Languages Catalogue/Endangered Languages Project (ELCat/ELP) team at University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa in coordination with the Governance Council.
If you’d like to learn more about the project and find out what you can do to help, don’t hesitate to check out www.endangeredlanguages.com.
Be sure to check out the map too!