Chances are you haven’t heard of languages Chamacoco, Remo and Tuvan, and while they are nearing extinction, thanks to a digital project by National Geographic, each of them is now reaching a wider audience – online.
National Geographic’s Enduring Voices project is trying to slow down the rate at which languages are disappearing. Giving listeners a chance to hear some of the most little-known sounds of human speech. Every 14 days a language dies. By 2100, more than half of the more than 7,000 languages spoken on Earth—many of them not yet recorded—may disappear, taking with them a wealth of knowledge about history, culture, the natural environment, and the human brain.
National Geographic, along with the Living Tongues Institute for Endangered Languages, have already identified 15 places worldwide where these languages are most likely to disappear, and are documenting them. For most of these languages, this is a first. National Geographic Fellows and linguists, K. David Harrison and Gregory Anderson, are the ones who are literally writing it all down.
As part of the process, National Geographic has launched 8 new talking dictionaries containing more than 32,000 entries and 24,000 audio recordings. Not only do the dictionaries give insight into the languages spoken, they also shed light on the cultures formed around them, with photographs of cultural objects.
A key element to that has been recording individual speakers and cataloguing translations of their various words and phrases. Many of those collections have then been made accessible to the community online, to serve as a resource to help them teach their native language to the new generation, who all too often would otherwise grow up learning only the regionally dominant language.
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