January 6, 2015 michellem

Saving the past to protect our future

Happy New Year, everyone!

There’s an often quoted figure that half of the world’s languages will go extinct by 2100.  This can happen for a number of political, economical, or societal reasons such as a parent’s decision not to pass down linguistic knowledge in order to “better assimilate” into a broader national identity or that possible social mobility is only allowed to speakers of a certain language.

There are many amazing organizations that work to preserve the most endangered languages through dictionary (and sometimes even alphabet) creation and archiving recordings of native speakers, in the very real fear that once this last generation leaves, they will be taking the language with them.

Thankfully, this doesn’t  have to be the case.  Even the most rudimentary of recordings can help people connect with their linguistic heritage, such as Colleen Billiot and Hali Dardar, two women from the United Houma Nation working to revitalize the Houma language, a Native American language that was largely spoken in what is now present-day Louisiana:

“We’re trying to find a dinosaur,” Dardar said. “It lived and breathed a thousand years ago, but we know it breathed. We want to dig up the bones and teach it to children. You need to find the grammatical framework. If we can find one small tiny knucklebone, it is a lot better for linguistic research.”

Dardar and Hali are part of a growing trend of young people trying to better connect with their linguistic heritage. Though this need to know the community and culture you come from is ancient and universal, the advent of digital technology makes it all the easier to accomplish this:

“Technology can connect language teachers and content with learners across space and time. Technology can document endangered languages with voice recordings. It can produce and distribute curriculum and resources easily and quickly. It can facilitate independent learning through gaming, cloud-based downloads and apps. It can connect teachers and learners for one-way or tandem language learning.”

Our resolution for 2015 is to make these tools for you.

 

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