Preserving endangered languages in the digital age

Languages are not just tools for communication; they are carriers of history, culture, and identity. However, language must also be relevant and have the utility for its speaker to incentivise mastery. It is not uncommon to have linguistically diverse communities that do not share a native language and speak a common but foreign language to ease communication and trade. In fact, the term “Lingua Franca” used to describe this was itself a diverse oral language spoken by Mediterranean traders during the Middle Ages and included Italian, Spanish, French, and even Arabic influences. This blog delves into the issues surrounding endangered languages and how GraphoGame contributes to their preservation with its technology.

While enhancing communication, trade, and cooperation between linguistically diverse communities is a laudable outcome, we risk losing the richness of history, culture, and identity held in the words, proverbs, literature, and oral tradition of a native language.

This is a gradual process in which exposure to a lingua franca leads to bilingualism, and over several generations, mother tongue mastery has weakened. However, this does not have to be so. Languages can be revitalised and made relevant, such as Hebrew or Welsh.

There are 7000 living native languages in the world today, and 6000 of them are now in danger due to the rapid proliferation of digital technologies worldwide. Digital technologies are mostly developed using widely spoken languages, such as English, French, Mandarin, etc.

It is estimated that only 1000 languages are digitalised in some form in software or on the internet. This results in an uneven distribution of opportunities for speakers of different languages in the digital age. We risk losing the rich heritage, knowledge and wisdom of a language.

According to UNESCO, learning in your mother tongue is a human right and essential to improving learning, learning outcomes, and socio-emotional development. However, 40 % of the population globally needs access to an education in a language they speak or understand. UNESCO data indicates that around 600 languages have disappeared in the last century. If current trends continue, up to 90 per cent of the world’s languages may become extinct by the end of this century.

At GraphoGame, we are dedicated to doing our part by creating literacy apps for kids in underrepresented languages. We aim to preserve endangered languages by providing parents and children with resources, such as digital apps, that expose the new generation to the sounds, letters and phrases of languages spoken by their ancestors.

That is why we worked with the Greenlandic government to develop the Kalaallisut (West Greenlandic) version of GraphoGame or researched a Cinyanja version of GraphoGame with the University of Zambia.

We continue to create digital tools for endangered language groups and hope to work with universities, governments and schools worldwide to continue creating and distributing our impactful literacy apps. We have a unique and cost-effective methodology for developing and researching new language versions of GraphoGame in just several months.

Author: Jesper Ryynänen, COO,
GraphoGame jesper@graphogame.com
 

Screenshots of GraphoGame