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Preserving Endangered Languages

Abaza alphabet
Preserving Endangered Languages
on October, 08 2013

Many of the languages that are now endangered are those that do not have written form. These undocumented languages, particularly indigenous ones, contain ancestral knowledge. The information will be lost forever without any hope of recovery. If obscure mother tongues the world over are not preserved, humanity will lose much. Fortunately, people and organizations are recognizing what is happening and doing something in preserving endangered languages to keep them alive.

What does it mean to be endangered?

A language is considered endangered when its speakers prefer to use another language over it. Essentially what happens is that native speakers come to a sort of falling out with their mother tongue. There are multiple reasons why this happens but there is one definite outcome. Eventually, the time will come when and endangered language becomes a dead or extinct language because not one living person speaks it at all.

What determines the survival of a language?

In the course of human history, many languages have already become extinct. Languages that are spoken by more people survive while languages that are left behind get buried and forgotten eventually. There is one more factor that determines language dominance in the world today. The language spoken by the more powerful economies are guaranteed dominance over other languages.

There are people who believe that language loss is a natural process as human civilization evolves. However, at present the concern is about the accelerated rate of language loss the world over.

Role models

One of the biggest programs that are being implemented to save and preserve the world’s languages is the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) Endangered Languages Program. It provides various forms of support for governments and communities in many parts of the globe. The program has a very wide scope. UNESCO sends out personnel to advocate language programs, assess the status of the locals and determine current trends. It also provides expert help and a platform for technology transfer, and also gives local communities advice on policy-making and good practices.

Online, there is a website that has similar aspirations. This is the Endangered Languages Project which was launched in 2011. The main tool that this initiative uses is modern technology. The main activities include documentation, preservation, and language education. Website users are given ample resources related to the world’s endangered languages with the help of numerous partners in the academe and the world of research. There are also platforms for online sharing such as links to relevant Google Groups. Google is involved in the project as well as the two academic institutions, namely Eastern Michigan University and the University of Hawaii. The National Science Foundation has granted the project a generous grant.

Something can be done to reverse the process

Language policies which are well-planned, well-managed and implemented properly are getting amazing results. They are proving that the process of losing languages to obscurity is not at all irreversible. Ongoing efforts by many communities around the world are showing that endangered languages are not in an inevitable downhill road. Individuals are also contributing to the preservation of their native tongues. Some are rapping and writing songs in their endangered language. What can you contribute in order to preserve your mother tongue?

Bernadine Racoma

Bernadine is a writer, researcher, professional and multi-awarded blogger and new media consultant. She brings with her a rich set of experience in the corporate world, as well as in the field of research and writing. Having taken early retirement after working as an international civil servant and traveling the world for 22 years, she has aggressively pursued her main interest in writing and research. You can also find Bernadine Racoma at .

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