Wikitongues Seeks to Save World’s Dying LanguagesSkill Level 5, Published on: Mar 04, 2019
Experts say there are about 6,500 languages spoken throughout the world. But the United Nations estimates that about half of these languages are in danger of disappearing.
The U.N. cultural agency, or UNESCO, lists languages it considers endangered on its Atlas of the World’s Languages in Danger. UNESCO collects information on the languages and then increases efforts meant to prevent them from dying out.
One non-profit organization seeking to save world languages is a New York-based group called Wikitongues. Officials from Wikitongues say the organization has a simple goal: to provide the tools and support that people need to save their languages.
Daniel Bogre Udell is the co-founder of Wikitongues. He told VOA that when a language disappears, many other things can go away as well. For example, parts of a community’s culture, knowledge and identity can also be lost.
Wikitongues was launched in 2016 as an open internet collection of world languages. The self-described “community” is operated by volunteers from around the world. The collection is in the form of language videos that people add to the Wikitongues website.
There are currently more than 400 languages and dialects represented on Wikitongues’ YouTube channel. Some, like English, Farsi and Mandarin, are spoken by hundreds of millions of people. Others are more uncommon. Bora, for example, is spoken by only a few thousand people in the Amazon regions of Peru and Colombia. Udell says more than 1,500 people from 70 different countries have added videos to the system.
Udell says there are many examples of languages that disappeared but later returned to use. “Hebrew went extinct in the 4th century BC, and was revived in the 1800s. Now once again, it’s the mother tongue of half of the world’s Jewish population.”
One of Wikitongues’ volunteers is Theron Musuweu Kolokwe, who lives in Namibia. His native language is Subiya, which is spoken by about 30,000 people along the Zambezi River in Namibia, Zambia and Botswana. However, he does not get the chance to speak his native language every day. Like many other educated people from his area, he speaks a lot of English and Afrikaans.
Kolokwe is hoping his involvement with Wikitongues can help keep Subiya and other African languages from going extinct.
Read the following vocabulary with your teacher.
endangered (adj.) /ɪnˈdeɪndʒəd/ - (of a species) seriously at risk of extinction.
- They are working on legislation to protect endangered species.
dialect (n.) /ˈdʌɪəlɛkt/ - a particular form of a language which is used in a specific region or by a social group.
- The Lancashire dialect seemed like a foreign language.
extinct (adj.) /ɪkˈstɪŋkt/ - no longer existing
Many of these old traditions have since become extinct.
revive (v.) /rɪˈvaɪv/ - to bring (something) back into use or popularity
- The family is trying to revive an old custom.
Answer these questions about the article.
1. How many languages are spoken around the world?
2. Where does Wikitongues come from?
3. When was Wikitongues launched?
4. Where is Subiya spoken?
Make a sentence.
Make sentences using these words.
endangered, dialect, extinct, revive
Have a discussion on following questions.
1. What do you think about Wikitongues?
2. Would you contribute to Wikitongues?
3. Do you know of any languages that are at risk of being extinct?
4. What can be done in order to prevent a language from extinction?
5. Do you think your native language could be endangered in the future?