tiistai 30. huhtikuuta 2013

Before it’s too late

No one knows how many languages there are currently spoken, but common consensus is between 6000 and 7000 languages. Languages are highly concentrated and the 8 largest languages cover more than 40% of the number of speakers worldwide (Table1). 

Table1: Distribution of world languages by number of first-language speakers (Paul et al., 2013)

Other languages are spoken by small communities and many of them are endangered languages. According to some estimates, half of the endangered languages are going to fade away within the next 50 years. It is also said that one language dies every two weeks. A dying language can have thousands of living speakers but when the youngest speakers are grandparents and older, the language is in danger of vanishing. Intergenerational transmission doesn’t work when the parent generation understands the language, but they don’t speak it to their children or among themselves.

The endangerment of language is severe to culture because language is the basis of collective memory, values and identities. Therefore, international communities, like UNESCO, SIL International and Ethnologue are doing their best to save the endangered languages. Some of the international operators focus on statistics and codification on their research. It is said that reason for this development is globalization where the economically powerful languages dominate other languages.

Globalization affects to our daily life in many ways. Some of the effects are invisible and hard to comprehend and others are unambiguous. The development of technology is one of the most substantial consequences of globalization. Where tales and stories used to be for entertainment and a way to transfer knowledge, today it is technology and the Internet that is used for communication and entertainment.

Kenneth Goldsmith said “If It Doesn't Exist on the Internet, It Doesn't Exist”. This is true in the world of Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Google. Social media is a medium that combines enormous amount of people in a way that is never seen before. People can today connect around the world and they can work for the same cause. Everyone with a Facebook account can express their views to millions of people. Of course, your influence is in Internet as great it is in real life, but at least you have chance to say your opinion. Social media is also fair in the meaning that the content counts. Twitter or YouTube are only tools to share content, content that is created by users. Today, technology deals with tasks that were handled elsewhere before. It works like language in some way.

However, these tools can be harnessed as a solution. In endangered languages international operators have comprehended the power of social media and crowdsourcing. A great example of collaboration is the Alliance For Linguistic Diversity. They have launched the Endangered Language project as an online collaborative effort to protect global linguistic diversity. Their website is a place where you can suggest a language to the list of endangered languages. The actual list is an interactive map, which you can browse like any other map in Internet. You can also contribute the site providing material about the culture or actual language in danger.

Introducing the endangered languages project - a video

Technology is not the answer to all problems, but it can help people to keep their culture alive. Open your mouth and speak up before its too late.

Endangered Languages. Alliance for Linguistic Diversity. [www-page] Updated 2013. [cited 22.4.2013] Available: http://www.endangeredlanguages.com

Ethnologue. Languages of the world. [www-page] Updated 2013. [cited 22.4.2013] Available: http://www.ethnologue.com/statistics/size

Paul L., Simons G. and Fennig D. (eds.) 2013. Ethnologue: Languages of the World, Seventeenth edition. Dallas, Texas: SIL International. Online version: http://www.ethnologue.com

Text: Mikko Järvi, student of Independent Study in English course

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