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Google Launches a New Initiative Aimed To Save Dying Languages

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Language experts have become increasingly concerned about the number of languages which are on the verge of becoming extinct. According to the statistics data, presented by the Foundation of Endangered Languages, there are in between 500 and 1000 out of 6000 existing languages, which are hardly spoken nowadays. Annually about 25 languages die out which gives us a total of 250 languages per decade.

The English language has long since become the common language of the global economy and communication largely by the efforts of such web search engines as Google, Yahoo and others.

In June 2012 Google decided to partner its efforts with a number of other dot-com majors in launching a new initiative, called the Endangered Languages Project (ELP), which aims to bring together, document, preserve and eventually teach over 3000 languages facing the highest risk of falling out of use once and for all.

The Endangered Language Project supported by the Alliance for Linguistic Diversity is a website designed to help people store and exchange all-round information about such extinct languages as the Arapaho language in the United States fluently spoken by 250 people or the Haida language in Canada with only 40 native speakers aged 70 to 80 who still use its ‘considerably simplified’ form.

The ELP platform will present a variety of resources and tools such as the archive of high-quality audio and video recordings and language samples, provided by natives, copies of important historical documents and manuscripts and online learning options for those who are interested in studying them.

Although being the main thought partner and sponsor of the project, Google is planning to transfer the management to the First Peoples’ Cultural Council and The Institute for Language Information and Technology which specialize in this field. The former will be responsible for the strategy and research part while the latter will provide technical support of the project. Google will remain on the advisory committee.

However, there are people who question if the real purpose of the initiative is really to preserve the indigenous languages and not to further promote Google services and benefit a group of extinct-language academics.

Whichever it is, this might as well be called the first really meaningful effort of dot-com world leaders to introduce severely endangered languages to the Internet.

The ELP initiative is facing unique unprecedented challenges: in the highly technological world there are still many languages which are unknown to science. So it will take a lot of work, time and devotion to try to digitally preserve the world’s linguistic heritage.


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