Experts estimate that only 50% of the languages that are alive today will be spoken by the year 2100. The disappearance of a language means the loss of valuable scientific and cultural information, comparable to the loss of a species. Tools for collaboration between world communities, scholars, organizations and concerned individuals can make a difference. Such is the raison d’être of the Endangered Languages Project, an online collaborative effort to protect global linguistic diversity.
The first thing I noticed on this site is the incredibly high quantity of red dots on the world map, each indicating a severely endangered language. The site enabled me quickly and easily to look up endangered languages in Mexico, where I live (the closest red dot to my home is the Seri language, one I’d never even heard of!). I also looked up the language that first interested me as a pre-teen in the southwestern USA: Navajo (it is labelled “at risk” and is currently a featured language on the site). Even in my adopted homeland of Japan, as I expected, the Ainu language is ranked “critically endangered.”
The languages included in the project and the information displayed about them are provided by the Catalogue of Endangered Languages (ELCat), produced by the University of Hawai’i at Manoa and The Institute for Language Information and Technology (The Linguist List) at Eastern Michigan University. The list of collaborators in the Alliance for Linguistic Diversity is indeed impressive. The project site is definitely worth using!