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Google Launches Endangered Languages Project

Google Launches Endangered Languages Project
By Jennifer LeClaire

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As Google sees it, documenting the 3,000-plus languages that are on the verge of extinction -- about half of all languages in the world -- is an important step in preserving cultural diversity, honoring the knowledge of elders and empowering youth. And Google sees technology's role in strengthening those efforts through research and collaboration.
 



With its latest initiative, Google is working to preserve endangered languages. Backed by a new coalition, the Alliance for Linguistic Diversity, the Endangered Languages Project gives people interested in preserving languages a Web site to share and access research, share advice and build collaborations.

"People can share their knowledge and research directly through the site and help keep the content up-to-date," Clara Rivera Rodriguez and Jason Rissman, project managers for The Endangered Languages Project, wrote in the Google blog.

"A diverse group of collaborators have already begun to contribute content ranging from 18th-century manuscripts to modern teaching tools like video and audio language samples and knowledge-sharing articles."

Documenting 3,000-Plus Languages

Rodriguez and Rissman offer an example of the need for the project: The Miami-Illinois language. The language was considered by some to be extinct. Once spoken by Native American communities throughout what's now the American Midwest, its last fluent speakers died in the 1960s.

"Decades later, Daryl Baldwin, a citizen of the Miami Tribe of Oklahoma, began teaching himself the language from historical manuscripts and now works with the Miami University in Ohio to continue the work of revitalizing the language, publishing stories, audio files and other educational materials," Rodriguez and Rissman said. "Miami children are once again learning the language and -- even more inspiring -- teaching it to each other."

As Google sees it, documenting the 3,000-plus languages that are on the verge of extinction -- about half of all languages in the world -- is an important step in preserving cultural diversity, honoring the knowledge of elders and empowering youth. And Google sees technology's role in strengthening those efforts.

A Google Throwback Project

We caught up with Greg Sterling, principal analyst at Sterling Market Intelligence, to get his take on Google's latest collaboration. He told us this is a "great" initiative on Google's part and an example where the company is doing something for the greater good with no apparent profit motive.

"This is a glimpse of the kind of behavior that won Google so many fans in the past," Sterling said. "If Google is successful with the project it will have performed an important service to global culture and research -- as well as hopefully keeping alive languages that otherwise might disappear from use."

Although Google played a role in the development and launch of this project, the company said the long-term goal is for true experts in the field of language preservation to take the lead. With that in mind, Google will hand the reins over to the First Peoples' Cultural Council and The Institute for Language Information and Technology at Eastern Michigan University in a few months.
 

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