Many of the world's smallest and most endangered languages have no written form and have never been recorded or scientifically documented. Today, the National Geographic Enduring Voices YouTube channel will launch and allow many of these tongues to have a presence on the Internet for the very first time. Linguists Dr. K. David Harrison and Dr. Gregory Anderson from the Living Tongues Institute have teamed up with Google.org to allow small and endangered languages that may have never been heard outside of a remote village to reach a global audience. Using YouTube as a platform, researchers, academics and communities can now collaborate more effectively on promoting language revitalization.
The YouTube channel features videos such as hip-hop performed by Songe Nimasow in the Aka language of India, songs by Aydyng Byrtan-ool, a talented young Tuvan singer and epic storyteller in Southern Siberia, and videos demonstrating how the Foe language of Papua New Guinea uses body parts to count from 1 to 37.
The launch of the channel comes on the heels of an announcement by Harrison and Anderson of a “hidden” language of India, known locally as Koro, that is new to science and had never been documented outside of its rural community. Koro is one of half of the world’s languages likely to vanish in the next 100 years.
In addition to using YouTube to help revitalize endangered and minority languages, communities can also take advantage of Google Translator Toolkit that announced the addition of 284 new languages last year to make translation faster and easier.
In the midst of a language extinction crisis, we are also seeing a global grassroots movement for language revitalization. Speakers are leveraging new technologies, such as social networking and YouTube, to sustain small languages. As Harrison describes in his book "The Last Speakers," we are all impoverished when a language dies, and all enriched by the human knowledge base found in the world's smallest tongues.
Learn more about Harrison and Anderson's efforts to document languages through the Enduring Voices Project.