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Google Partners with UH Manoa Linguists on Endangered Languages Project

The Endangered Languages Project, a website developed by Google and backed by the Alliance for Linguistic Diversity, launched today at www.endangeredlanguages.com. A central feature of the website is the Catalogue of Endangered Languages compiled by linguists at the University of Hawaiʿi at Mānoa and the LINGUIST List at Eastern Michigan University. The website is sponsored by a grant from the National Science Foundation.

“The world’s languages are in crisis, but there is no comprehensive, up-to-date source of information on the endangered languages of the world,” said Lyle Campbell, director of the UH Mānoa Catalogue of Endangered Languages project and a professor of Linguistics in the College of Languages, Linguistics and Literature. “So the Catalogue is needed to support documentation and revitalization of endangered languages, to inform the public and scholars, to aid members of groups whose languages are in peril, and to call attention to the languages most critically in need of conservation.”

An “endangered” language means it is at risk of going extinct. At current rates of shift from minority languages to dominant languages (such as English, Spanish, Russian and Mandarin), it is estimated that at least 50% and possibly as many as 90% of the world’s languages will become extinct within the next century.

More than a website, the Endangered Languages Project gives those interested in describing and strengthening these languages a place to access information and to provide resources, to share advice, and to build collaborations. The Catalogue of Endangered Languages, featured on the site, will grow and improve through online submissions, through the ongoing research of UH Mānoa and EMU linguists, and by the involvement of a dozen regional directors—top experts in the languages of their areas—who will make sure that information on their individual languages is complete and accurate.

“The endangered languages crisis is far greater in magnitude than the threat to endangered species,” said Campbell. “Over 40% of the world’s 7,000 languages are endangered—and the Catalogue contains information on 3,000 endangered languages. More than 100 of the world’s 420 independent language families are already extinct, which means that over 25% of the linguistic diversity of the world is just gone.” Kenneth Rehg, who chairs the UH Mānoa Department of Linguistics, stressed that it would be difficult to exaggerate the importance of this website for the field of linguistics and its contributions to the documentation and revitalization of endangered languages.

“The efforts of linguists at the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa, along with EMU, to create the Catalogue of Endangered Languages bring more awareness to the push to describe and strengthen endangered languages. Those efforts are well-aligned with our mission to make information accessible to as many people as possible,” said Google.org Strategic Partnership Manager Jason Rissman. “The Catalogue is a central part of the Endangered Languages Project and has great potential to ignite and sustain unprecedented progress in language documentation and conservation on a global scale.”

The Endangered Languages Project website includes videos and recordings submitted by speakers of endangered languages, as they share why conservation of their languages is important. One video features Ākeamakamae Kiyuna, a speaker of Hawaiian. Kiyuna is pursuing a master’s degree in linguistics at UH Mānoa.

For more information on the Department of Linguistics, see the website at http://www.ling.hawaii.edu/. For more information on the College of Languages, Linguistics and Literature, see http://www.lll.hawaii.edu/.

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