Social media saving endangered languages

Feb. 18, 2012 at 8:38 PM   |   0 comments

OTTAWA, Feb. 18 (UPI) -- A scientist says digital tools including Facebook, YouTube and text messaging will save some of the world's endangered languages.

More than half of the world's 7,000 languages are expected to be extinct by the end of this century, the BBC reported Saturday.

Experts said some languages are being preserved through elements of the "modern world," especially digital technology.

"Small languages are using social media, YouTube, text messaging and various technologies to expand their voice and expand their presence," said K. David Harrison, an associate professor of linguistics at Swarthmore College and a National Geographic fellow.

"It's what I like to call the flipside of globalization. We hear a lot about how globalization exerts negative pressures on small cultures to assimilate. But a positive effect of globalization is that you can have a language that is spoken by only five or 50 people in one remote location and now through digital technology that language can achieve a global voice and a global audience," Harrison said.

Harrison, along with National Geographic, has produced eight audio dictionaries for languages that are in danger of becoming extinct.

Harrison said not all languages can survive, but new digital tools offer a way for some languages to live longer.

"Everything that people know about the planet, about plants, animals, about how to live sustainably, the polar ice caps, the different ecosystems that humans have survived in -- all this knowledge is encoded in human cultures and languages, whereas only a tiny fraction of it is encoded in the scientific literature," he said. "If we care about sustainability and survival on the planet, we all benefit from having this knowledge base persevered."

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