New Google Project Designed to Save Rare Languages

Dennis Faas's picture

Google is funding a project designed to promote languages in danger of falling into disuse. The search giant is producing a series of tools, including specialist social network tools, designed to revive interest in the languages.

The Endangered Language Project springs from the fact that about half of the 6,000 human languages spoken today are "on the verge of extinction," with few native speakers left alive.

Researchers predict there will be no one able to speak these languages by the year 2100, unless special efforts are made to preserve them. (Source:

Expansion of Communications Reduces Languages Spoken

Ironically, technology may be contributing to the decline of many languages. In the past, people in many areas of the world came into contact only with others living in the immediate vicinity. As a result, their local languages remained useful and vibrant.

Today, however, international trade and communications allow people to talk to others across great distances. That allows local groups to put less emphasis on their native tongues and embrace some of the more popular world-wide languages, particularly those dominant in business, like English and Mandarin.

Google's Tech, Cash Boosts Existing Expertise

Google's Endangered Language Project brings together language researchers at universities in Michigan and Hawaii, with other experts. Google currently funds the work, but hopes eventually to hand over control to the academics. (Source:

One of the main aims of the Endangered Language Project is to provide tools to help capture recordings of native speakers. For example, recordings could be made in cases where only a grandparent or great-grandparent within a family still speaks the "old" language.

The project's website,, will also allow language researchers and amateur enthusiasts to share ideas about researching and promoting today's rare languages. It is also a central depository for existing recordings or documents that preserve a dying language.

Social Networks Could Spark Conversation

Another tactic of the Endangered Language Project will be to set up specialist social networks that facilitate communication between native speakers of a language.

For particularly rare languages, the few remaining speakers often live far away from one another and, without the ability to communicate over long distances, would never normally be able to make contact.

Experts believe that communication between two native speakers of a language may help uncover more terms, phrases, and grammatical patterns than simply asking speakers of the language to record the terms they can remember.

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