Language is something most of us take for granted. We acquire it from a very young age, and use it constantly to communicate our feelings, opinions, and values without giving it a second thought.
So what if one day you woke up and the language you spent your whole life speaking, thinking, and learning in was in danger of disappearing? Of the 7,097 languages spoken in the world today, roughly one-third are considered endangered; this number will likely grow, too. The reasons are numerous and complex, but political, economic, and sociological factors have played a huge role over the centuries.
To raise awareness of language preservation, the United Nations General Assembly has deemed 2019 as the International Year of Indigenous Languages. Using your chosen language is a human right that grants the power to preserve your “community’s history, customs and traditions, memory, unique modes of thinking, meaning, and expression.” When language is lost, so is a sense of cultural identity and self.
Luckily, the United Nations General Assembly is not alone — there are other organizations dedicated to preserving language and educating the population about the role these languages play in society as a whole. Here are three of our favorites.
Part technology, part educational tool, 7,000 Languages began in 2009 as part of Transparent Language’s Heritage and Endangered Languages Preservation Program (H.E.L.P.P.), and has since blossomed into its own nonprofit organization.
Using language-learning software, the goal of 7,000 Languages is simple: revival. Working closely with native speakers, the group partners with minority and indigenous populations to create a series of interactive, educational resources to capture, revitalize, and preserve endangered language assets and culture. Anyone can sign up for their free online courses and learn one of 15 languages.
For 7,000 Languages, part of their focus on raising awareness about the world’s languages means adding more languages to the tools people use every day. As they point out, even the largest tech companies don’t offer much language diversity. Google Translate, for instance, currently offers only 103 languages — which represents less than 2% of the world’s languages!
To learn more about their work, visit their website.
Living Tongues Institute for Endangered Languages
Founded in 2005 by world-renowned linguist Dr. Gregory D.S. Anderson, PhD, Living Tongues Institute for Endangered Languages brings together linguists, researchers, volunteers, and language activists on a shared mission to document and maintain small and endangered languages.
Through workshops and community trainings, the organization has created over 100 Talking Dictionaries — a glossary of words and images equipped with the definition, spelling, phonetic spelling, and audio pronunciation — by training local activists to record and edit words and phrases in their native language.
This is only a small fraction of the work Living Tongues Institute for Endangered Languages has completed for minority languages across the globe. For more information on their current and past projects, check out their website.
Our Golden Hour
Our Golden Hour approaches language preservation through educating the littlest among us. The Chittagong Hill Tracts in southeastern Bangladesh is home to 11 linguistic groups, most of which are considered endangered. In school, children are taught in Bangladesh’s national language, Bengali (also known by its endonym, Bangla), which is not a language spoken in the Hill Tracts; therefore, most school-aged children of indigenous languages do not know Bengali. As a result, their school dropout rates are much higher than the national average.
Our Golden Hour believes that children should learn and be taught in their mother language. That’s why the founder, Maung Nyeu, EdD, himself a native of the Chittagong Hill Tracts, aims — among other education-based initiatives that support indigenous communities — to foster education by publishing children’s books in their native languages. The books reflect ancient folklore, so not only do the kids get to read books in their own tongue, they also get to learn and share their own histories.
These children’s books are multilingual and include English translations alongside the other languages; for example, The Legend of Dragon Lake contains text in four languages: English, Bengali, and two endangered languages, Mro and Marma. All seven books are available on Golden Hour’s website.
CLI is committed to ensuring that limited English proficient individuals get the assistance they need in the language they feel most comfortable speaking, which is why the breadth of languages of limited diffusion we offer is second to none. If you’re interested in our services, please feel free to contact us at any time — we’d love to hear from you!