Google today introduced the Endangered Languages Project, a website for people to find and share the most up-to-date and comprehensive information about endangered languages.
Endangered languages, such as the Miami-Illinois language once spoken by Native American communities, are considered by some to be extinct. Google says it is trying to document the 3,000+ languages that are on the verge of extinction (about half of all languages in the world), in an effort to "preserve cultural diversity, honoring the knowledge of our elders and empowering our youth."
Technology can strengthen these efforts by helping people create high-quality recordings of their elders (often the last speakers of a language), connecting diaspora communities through social media and facilitating language learning.
The Endangered Languages Project, backed by a new coalition, the Alliance for Linguistic Diversity, gives those interested in preserving languages a place to store and access research, share advice and build collaborations. People can share their knowledge and research directly through the site and help keep the content up-to-date. Google says a group of collaborators have already begun to contribute content ranging from 18th-century manuscripts to modern teaching tools like video and audio language samples and knowledge-sharing articles. Members of the Advisory Committee have also provided guidance, helping shape the site and ensure that it addresses the interests and needs of language communities.
In a few months, Google will officially be handing over the reins to the First Peoples' Cultural Council (FPCC) and The Institute for Language Information and Technology (The LINGUIST List) at Eastern Michigan University. FPCC will take on the role of Advisory Committee Chair, leading outreach and strategy for the project. The LINGUIST List will become the Technical Lead. Both organizations will work in coordination with the Advisory Committee.
As part of this project, research about the world's most threatened languages is being shared by the Catalogue of Endangered Languages (ELCat), led by teams at the University of Hawaii at Manoa and Eastern Michigan University, with funding provided by the National Science Foundation.
Building upon other efforts to preserve and promote culture online, Google.org has seeded this project's development. Google's organization is inviting interested organizations to join the effort.