The United Nations Education, Scientific, and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) regularly publishes an Atlas documenting and mapping more than 2,500 global languages that are classified as vulnerable, endangered, or extinct. UNESCO also estimates that of the 6,000 current languages spoken today, more than half will be extinct by the start of the next century, adding that “with the disappearance of unwritten and undocumented languages, humanity will lose not only a cultural wealth, but also important ancestral knowledge embedded, in particular, in indigenous languages.”
In many cases, these languages require urgent intervention, especially in remote locations where only a handful of speakers remain. There are other languages that remain especially vulnerable due to the external pressures and struggling to pass on the language to the next generation.
Despite some of these sobering statistics, there is also a growing movement emerging where members of these communities are increasingly recognizing the great value in revitalizing their native language through the opportunities provided by technology. Through the use of participatory citizen media and web 2.0 tools, these individuals are building communities around the common use of these under-represented languages and helping to encourage the next generation of speakers.
Projects like Indigenous Tweets have been mapping users who use Twitter in indigenous languages, making it easier to find others who also tweet in these languages. But there are challenges – both linguistically and technically. For some language communities, assistance is available to help develop written alphabets and to help document these languages for further research, which is part of the work supported by the Living Tongues Institute. There are also technical limitations, such as the unavailability of keyboards in minority language fonts. In some cases, there are also cultural barriers in the use of their indigenous languages in such a public setting like the internet.
Despite these challenges, there are many examples of innovative approaches to preserving and promoting these languages through citizen media and web 2.0 tools. Young leaders and “bridge” figures (often referred to individuals that can bridge two different cultures) are building a movement around the use, preservation and promotion of these languages in an online context.
- Facebook Group: Citizen Media and Underrepresented Languages [global]
- Facebook Group: Lenguas Indígenas y Medios Ciudadanos [en español]
Since 2011, Rising Voices has been exploring some of these uses of citizen media in revitalizing and promoting the use of underrepresented languages, as well as featuring some of these success stories by language activists across the globe.
From Nigeria, Lucy Chinyeaka Iwuala has been working to promote the Igbo language by sharing knowledge in digital platforms such as Wikipedia.
From South Africa, Siki Dlanga has been working with the South African Indigenous Languages Action Forum to promote linguistic diversity in all types of spaces.
From Spain, Inaciu Galán has been an advocate for the Asturian language so that future generations continue to love the language.
In an interview with Rising Voices, Bali Nangavulan walked us through about how he found a community online through a personal journey back to his roots.
Rising Voices interviewed Amrit Sufi, a researcher and academician, who is currently working on the digitization of endangered oral languages and cultures in India.