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Last updated on April 20, 2014 at 17:20 EDT

Google Wants To Save Dead Languages

June 22, 2012
Image Caption: Navajo Woman and Infant, Canyon de Chelle, Arizona. 1941 photo by Ansel Adams. (U.S. National Archives and Records Administration)

Michael Harper for redOrbit.com

You can do a lot of really cool things when you have a ton of cash. Take Jeff Bezos, for instance. The Amazon CEO has been a fan of space and space travel since he was a boy. So, using his massive fortune, he created a team dedicated to finding the Apollo 11 engines which had been lost in the Atlantic ocean for over 40 years.

Taking a more anthropologic approach, Google announced on Thursday they will launch the Endangered Languages Project, dedicated to saving some 3,000 fading languages. (3,054 to be exact).

“Of the 7,000 languages currently spoken, it is expected that 50% will not survive the turn of the century,” says a voice in the introductory video. Though the Internet may be partly responsible for this unification of languages, it could also play a part in the solution.

The site will act as a gathering place where groups and individuals can work together to preserve these endangered languages, documenting them as they go.

Taking to their blog to announce the new venture, Google said they hope the new site will help people “find and share the most up-to-date and comprehensive information about endangered languages.”

The new site will contain a number of tools and resources which can be used to not only help keep these endangered languages alive, but also revive some languages already thought to be extinct.

As an example, Google mentioned the work of one Daryl Baldwin, a citizen of the Miami Tribe of Oklahoma. Once spoken throughout many tribes in the American Midwest, the Miami-Illinois language was thought to have died in the 60s with its last fluent speaker. Piecing together historical manuscripts, Mr. Baldwin has been able to revitalize the language. Now, he works with the Miami University in Ohio to teach the language to Miami children.

Backed by the Alliance for Linguistic Diversity, The Endangered Languages Project has already begun to collect content, ranging from 18th-century manuscripts to modern day audio and video samples.

“Google has played a role in the development and launch of this project, but the long-term goal is for true experts in the field of language preservation to take the lead,” according to the Official Google Blog.

From there, the First Peoples´ Cultural Council (FPCC) will take over and lead the strategy and research of the project, and the Institute for Language Information and Technology (the LINGUIST List) at Eastern Michigan University will take over the technical side of things. So far, the site is also relying on data from the Catalog of Endangered Languages which has been compiled by researchers from the University of Hawai´i at Manoa and Eastern Michigan University.

While experts are already signing in and lending a hand, Google also plans to open the site up to interested individuals as well, making the effort as collaborative as possible.

“Once they sign up they will be able to customize their profile page, upload material and add comments to the site,” said Jason Rissman, a spokesman for Google.org.

“The main goal of the site is language preservation; average citizens can help this cause by raising awareness in their local communities.”


Source: Michael Harper for redOrbit.com