When a community loses its language, it loses its jokes, rituals, prayers, ancient stories and larger cultural identity. Stated bluntly, native languages are an important part of who we are.
Languages are more than just a mode of communication. The Committee on Endangered Languages and their Preservation estimates that only 1000 of the 6703 languages globally in 1996 continued to exist in 2011. This loss of languages is caused simultaneously by the deaths of the last native speakers and younger generations growing up while embracing other languages.
Should this continue unabated, experts estimate, "80% of the world's languages may vanish within the next century.", according to the Linguistic Society of America.
Thankfully, the internet offers social media platforms and software tools that enable people to archive, translate, and manage indigenous languages. As a result, there has been an active movement to prevent language extinction.
The Indigenous Language Challenge
Multiple pressures have led to the loss of languages, but the internet provides a number of tools that allow people to combat them and maintain a record of their culture.
The Indigenous Language Challenge is a new initiative that aims to increase awareness and preserve native tongues, according to News from Native California. For the challenge, Native Peoples from throughout North America have been making videos of themselves speaking their native languages to create a digital record of their culture.
These videos are our best hope to halt language extinction, as they help to increase exposure, build community, and spread awareness about the issue. The Indigenous Language Challenge highlights the importance of preserving culture through language, but is just one of many ways that current technologies can be used to help preserve languages.
The Importance of Language Immersion
The most important factor in preserving indigenous languages is immersion. There is a wealth of data that proves that native language immersion programs can drastically improve test scores and lead to career success. A number of schools across the country have accomplished great things with their cultural immersion programs.
Some of the most compelling studies come from the Hawaiian Islands. The P-12 Nāwahīokalaniʻōpuʻu (Nāwahī) School, for example, is known for its Hawaiian language immersion program, where English is not introduced into the curriculum for many years. According to a study by Professor William Wilson of the University of Hawai'i Hilo, as covered by Indian County Today Media Network, the school's immersion program is a crucial part of its 100% graduation rate and 80% college admission rate.
In historically underserved Hawaiian populations, this effect is particularly felt, but there are a number of similarly successful schools currently operating throughout the country, including:
1. Ayaprun Elitnaurvik Yup'ik Immersion School in Bethel, Alaska
2. Akwesasne (Mohawk) Freedom School in upstate New York
3. Cherokee Immersion Charter School in Tahlequah, Oklahoma
4. Cuts Wood (Blackfeet) Academy in Browning, Montana
5. Native American Community Academy (Lakota, Navajo, Tiwa) in Albuquerque, New Mexico
6. Waadookodaading (Ojibwe) Language Immersion School in Hayward, Wisconsin
These schools' success has proven that immersion is one of the best ways to preserve language and make educational gains.
The Internet Encourages Collaboration to Preserve Language
Mark Turin, of Yale Global Online, points out that, "Digital technology sustains conversations and facilitates wider participation, inviting contributions from comment members and language speakers themselves.” Further, crowdsourcing solutions makes it possible for people to work together in an efficient manner.
The Montana Indian Language Preservation Pilot Program, again covered by Indian County Today Media Network, reports that they are working to give people everywhere the ability to learn their language, culture and history through an online platform.
The Internet Facilitates Crucial Archival Work
There is no doubt that technology has been crucial to many of the most innovative language preservation campaigns. Dying languages have been recorded by researchers traveling far and wide to capture speakers on film. The internet has advanced preservation efforts a step further, offering a uniquely valuable tool that enables collaborative efforts to archive endangered languages.
Do you want to be part of the fight to keep important languages alive? Listen & Learn can help, Contact Us to find out what languages you can learn.