YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollectionsFacebook helps keep endangered languages alive

June 21, 2012|By Michelle Maltais
  • Nubian students in the village of Sebu are taught Arabic, not their native language. They learn about Nubian heritage at home, where elders try to carry on the culture.
Nubian students in the village of Sebu are taught Arabic, not their native… (Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles…)

Although some of us sticklers may say proper English is a dying language, there are languages that will actually disappear as their last living fluent speakers pass away. They take with them that culture’s centuries of knowledge and tradition that’s etched into every word, phrase and even inflection.

"Of the 7,000 languages currently spoken, it is expected that 50% will not survive the turn of the century," says the video introducing a project working to preserve at-risk languages.

And this is where the Web comes in.

While language can be consider an integral fiber that connects a community, the Web is what connects the world today. And a new website, called the Endangered Languages Project, aims to connect and collect the most current and comprehensive information about the more than 3,000 endangered languages of the world.

"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," according to a blog post on, which is helping to seed the project.

This endangered languages website project, backed by the newly formed Alliance for Linguistic Diversity, aims to be a sort of consortium for independent efforts globally, clearinghouse for collected elements and living online museum where people can access research and share their knowledge of the languages being preserved.

Collaborators have already begun to contribute content including 18th-century manuscripts and audio and video clips of language samples. The project also incorporates research by the Catalogue of Endangered Languages (ElCat) on the world’s highest-risk languages.

Although has helped to develop and launch the project, it plans to ultimately hand over the keys to language preservation experts.

"In a few months we’ll 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," its blog post says.

While experts are already working on preserving languages, there will be a way for interested individuals to join in.

"Once they sign up they will be able to customize their profile page, upload material and add comments to the site," according to's Jason Rissman. "The main goal of the site is language preservation; average citizens can help this cause by raising awareness in their local communities."


Facebook, Yahoo patent war peace talks commence

Foxconn CEO reportedly says iPhone 5 will outdo Galaxy S III

Facebook ushers in new Timeline cards when you hover over names

Follow Michelle Maltais on Google+Facebook or Twitter

Los Angeles Times Articles