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Working Together is the Solution to the Rapid Increase in the Extinction of Languages
Languages are disappearing worldwide at a rapid pace consequently becoming extinct. There are approximately 6,000 plus languages today, but by the end of the century it is estimated that about half of the languages will no longer exist. (Brookes 1) By allowing languages to die, society is losing out enormously in linguistic diversity, biodiversity, ways of life, creativity of the human mind and the system of knowledge that occurs within communication. To decrease the rapid pace of language deaths and extinction, professionals within the field need to come together with their ideas and start different projects to help raise awareness by using technology and different resources. (Linguistic Society of America)
For instance, Luisa Maffi is a linguist and an anthropologist, who is one of the authors of the Oxford Handbook of Endangered Languages, the founder of Terralingua a nonprofit organization. Terralingua helps promote awareness of biocultural diversity and the importance of preserving both the culture and the natural world. With the assistance of other individuals who projected the same concern, through Terralingua can promote advocacy and research on language endangerment and extinction. (Maffi 20) Additionally, Terralingua assembled an international conference for the first time and brought together composed anthropologists, biologists, linguists, and other natural and social scientists. The purpose of the conference is to brainstorm amongst one another to find solutions to counteract extinction. This resulted in a growing movement that changed the thinking of diversity of life on earth as biocultural diversity. Similarly, Maffi developed a variety of resources through Terralingua, such as, “The Index of Linguistic Diversity” and published maps with the purpose to track both languages and biodiversity. Collect data in the areas that struggle the most environmentally. (Krol 1-2)
Recently Tim Brookes wrote the article “Saving the World’s Endangered Alphabets” discusses the Endangered Alphabets Project. As the President of the project, Brookes used exhibitions, lectures and workshops by displaying documented scripts that were lost, carved into wood. Brookes partnered with preservation and revival groups in a dozen countries to create tangible items. For example, educating kids by playing games in the indigenous languages alphabet, folk tale based children’s books, crossword puzzles, such as, Bulgarian to Bangladesh. Other games include alphabet rubber stamps and variety of board games for the kids. Partner schools in Bangladesh report enormous improvement rates amongst the children while learning the traditional languages and the scripts. In fact, in Canada the Inuit children do better in school when starting to read and write in English after first learning the community language and scripts compared to their peers who grew up speaking English. (Brookes 2)
Brookes envisions a digital world atlas of endangered alphabets but needs the proper funding and the help of different organizations. The atlas would include downloadable fonts, keyboards, teaching videos and printed classroom materials, and detail of individuals and organizations working to preserve and revive their traditional script. The digital revolution brought tools to help record speakers and transcribe words, to archive dialects and create repositories that experts and supporters could share. Oxford University Press produced Oxford Global Languages with the main purpose to boost the indigenous languages that are not in the digital spotlight online. The team is putting together a digital dictionary for the following languages Hindi, Malay, Indonesian and Romanian. (Steinmetz 2)
The article “Language Death: a Freirean solution in the heart of the Amazon” by Alex Guilherme suggests that those languages which are on the verge of becoming extinct should try reviving the language by modernization. In other words, use the fundamentals based on the ancient or endangered language and revise it to society today. This project was achieved successfully in Ireland for the Gaelic language, as well as, Modern Hebrew language which is based on Ancient Hebrew. (Guilherme 65) Another example Guilherme recommends is to work with the education system, the local communities that speak the dying language, and actively stay engaged between both the teachers and the students thus helps revive the language. For instance, in Salesians, the native community took over the schools which led to recontextualization of the education process. The native language grew due to the use of the local language through teaching and learning, furthering the understanding of one another. Therefore, switching the focus toward the native languages in schools helped gain revitalization in the language and even the cultural relationship in the community. This shows that working together with the community rather than against it accomplishes more. (Guilherme 72)
Katy Steinmetz explains in the article “One of the World’s 7,000 Languages Dies Every Three Months. Can Apps Help Save Them?” the technical approach to help preserve native tongue languages by using apps like “Duolingo.” Duolingo is a language-learning app created to help revive threatened languages. This was accomplished by having many people coming together to support Myra Awodey in making the project come to reality. Duolingo is a free app but has ad-supported lessons in dozens of languages which has helped attract 300 million users and is still growing additionally helping preserve the dying languages. Awodey gives an example of how Duolingo has made a difference, when Duolingo launched their course for the Native Language in 2014 there were approximately 100,000 native speakers. (Steinmetz 1)
However, in 2018 with the help of volunteers who helped translate, there are now 4 million people who use the Duolingo language learning app. Duolingo receives requests daily for new languages to be added from a company called, “Basque to Scots.” The company is based out of Pittsburgh which helps revitalize indigenous languages like the Hawaiian and Navajo language. A group of volunteers put in time and expertise, including using technology to gain customer service insight to improve what is being offered to create course materials. In the 1800’s the United States overthrew the Hawaiian kingdom, result in banning the Hawaiian languages in schools. If spoken, the individuals speaking the native language would be punished. The language has declined to only about 150,000 speakers today. (Steinmetz 2)
Worldwide languages are becoming extinct at an extremely fast rate, however, by collaborating together and working as a team, whether an expert or an average person, this will help bring awareness, receive funding and create projects working towards dropping the language death rate. Each project, like Terralingua, could only be accomplished with the help of other colleagues and professionals within the field, whether it is for financial assistance or collecting data and bouncing off ideas through brainstorming. This is not limited to providing a wide variety of solutions like reducing the pace of language extinction and finding ways to preserve the materials before time runs out.
- Brookes, Tim. “Saving the World’s Endangered Alphabets.” The Week, 08 October 2018, “www.geographical.co.uk/opinion/item/2923-endangered-alphabets.” Accessed 28 January 2019.
- Guilherme, Alex. “Language Death: A Freirean Solution in the Heart of the Amazon.” Educational Philosophy and Theory, Vol. 45, No. 1, 2013, pp. 63-76. Doi:10.1080/00131857.2012.7324014.
- Kol, Debra. “Endangered Languages, Endangered Ecologies.” The Revelator, 10 September 2018, www.therevelator.org/endangered-languages-ecologies. Accessed 28 January 2019.
- Linguistic Society of America. “Endangered Languages.” LSA, 2012, www.linguisticsociety.org/resource/endangered-languages. Accessed 28 January 2019.
- Maffi, Luisa. “Diversity and the Spice of Life.” ReVision, Vol. 25, No. 2, 2002, pp. 19-22.
- Steinmetz, Katy. “One of the World’s 7,000 Languages Dies Every Three Months. Can Apps Help Save Them?” Time, 02 November 2018, www.time.com/5417035/technology-endagered-langugages/. Accessed 29 January 2019.
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