Giving Compass’ Take:
• Technology can help support and revitalize local languages around the world, but there are a few guidelines to follow to achieve impact: Engage local curators, reach into communities, value the local in the global, and start as soon as possible.
• How can donors provide capital and expand support for revitalizing languages?
• Read about other ways technology supports languages.
A tiny fraction of the world’s 7,000 languages dominate the Internet. Participation in the digital world requires that users have a basic understanding of English, Chinese, Spanish, or one of several other languages commonly used for global communications.
We’ve started to understand what else we need to keep local languages alive in the digital era, but it’s important to first grasp the stakes and the context in which the technology must work. Today, as connectivity grows across countries and continents, linguists believe nearly half of the world’s languages will become extinct in the next century.
Technology can help reduce the pressures on local languages and revitalize them in the modern world, but only if we apply it in conjunction with social, political, economic, and cultural measures to change behavior. Here are four guidelines to help support local languages:
- Engage local curators and motivators. Once the Unicode—a digital font specific to a language’s own letters or characters—is available for a particular language, the Internet offers a relatively inexpensive way for communities to access local language materials.
- Reach into communities—and homes. What happens in the home is important, because it affects where children learn to speak and value local languages, reinforced by their parents and grandparents.
- Value the local in the global. When the global community engages in initiatives to revitalize local languages, it provides encouragement and even legitimacy for local cultural advocates.
- Don’t wait. But we should also be working to prevent languages from reaching the linguistic equivalent of an intensive care unit.The sooner we get started, the more likely we’ll be to influence larger numbers of people to keep using, or to begin learning, their local languages.
Read the full article about revitalizing local languages by Alissa J. Stern at Stanford Social Innovation Review.
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