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Will Google's 'Endangered Languages Project' hold off the inevitable?
Google has embarked on documenting about 3,500 languages likely to disappear within a century. Of the world's approximately 7,000 languages, this half comprises languages "at risk, endangered, severely endangered and [of] vitality unknown". The Endangered Languages Project website was launched last Thursday, coinciding with Canada's National Aboriginal Day, inviting experts to collaborate on recording, sharing and accessing threatened languages using the gamut of Google's tools, such as Google Maps, Google Groups and YouTube. Google collaborated with universities and linguistic interest groups to launch the project.
At the heart of this ambitious venture may lie the desperation of the clock ticking away, but the question of what exactly is lost every time a language dies trumps the question of why one endangered language dies while another gets a reprieve. Therefore, whether it's Poitevin, spoken in central France, or Aka (Koro on the site) in Arunachal Pradesh, this is an angelic desperation. If it were not for Cmiique Iitom, spoken by the indigenous Seri in Mexico, for instance, several indispensable tools to mitigate the damage to the world's biodiversity would never have been discovered. Every time a language dies, it takes with it a repository of knowledge — medicinal, botanical, scientific, existential — to say the least.
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