Preserving Languages with Wikitongues

April 1, 2016 |

By Sarah-Claire Jordan

languagesWith the advent of such things as massive globalization, more and more government policies favoring one central language or dialect over many, and the Internet in general, it has been harder and harder for some languages and dialects to survive. These tend to be regional dialects or languages, limited to only one part of a country, meaning they might only be culturally relevant in that environment. However, this doesn’t mean that we should throw up our hands in desperation and watch as they fade away.

That was exactly how Daniel Bogre Udell and Federico Andrade felt, which in turn spurred them to create Wikitongues, a non-profit organization dedicated to preserving as many languages as possible. The organization is based in Brooklyn, a perfect area for finding speakers willing to share a bit of their language with others. Volunteers with Wikitongues go out and record videos of these speakers, and the videos then serve as a record of the language, sometimes with the volunteers chiming in with translations of important words and phrases into English.

After working more or less exclusively with video recordings, the good people at Wikitongues hit a bit of a speedbump. Yes, there were now records of over 180 different languages, but what difference can they make if only speakers of those languages can understand them? Creating subtitles for videos is tricky enough as it is, and would have to be powered by volunteers, as usual. A way around that issue, however, would be to create some sort of software to work in junction with the video recordings. Thus, the idea for Poly, an open sourced software aimed at helping to create multimedia dictionaries in different languages

The dictionaries that Poly would help create would be multimedia in the sense that they would include both text and video clips, especially the ones recorded by volunteers with Wikitongues. Being that the software would be open-source, and how easily one can access the Wikitongues videos, this is a huge step towards making language preservation and learning something that everyone can participate in. Many of the people involved with Wikitongues see this trend as something very necessary, as they have seen how governments all over the world have created policies that leave out many languages.

This essentially leaves the preservation and teaching of many languages up to the speakers themselves, and those kind souls who see how important it is to do this kind of work. The death of a language means the imminent death of the culture that goes along with it, and with that we are left with fewer lenses through which to view the world. Given what our world is going through right now, the last thing we need are fewer lenses to look through. The importance of this work cannot be understated, and together with Poly, Wikitongues can make a huge difference and inspire others to do the same. Without it, we run the risk of becoming a world with only a handful of stories to tell.

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