Google’s commitment to its “don’t be evil” motto has been in question for some time. However, there’s no question that they do sometimes use their powers for good, and this week’s announcement of the Endangered Languages project is a perfect example.
The Endangered Languages Project is a searchable online repository for information about endangered languages that should foster collaboration among people interested in preserving them. As Google explained on its blog, the project
“gives those interested in preserving languages a place to store and access research, share advice and build collaborations. People can share their knowledge and research directly through the site and help keep the content up-to-date.”
Previously, archives of information on lost and endangered languages were scattered among various universities and other institutions. With The Endangered Languages project, these organizations can make all of this information available online, so others can access it without needing to travel.
The project is the brainchild of Google’s Jason Rissman, who noticed that scholars had already begun to use YouTube to store recordings of endangered languages and decided to get involved. Rissman told Time Magazine that when it comes to language preservation,
“There have been a lot of silent efforts. There have been a lot of exciting projects happening at the regional and community level, but this is the first time anyone is bringing it all together.”
Now that the site is live, Google is handing the reins over to language preservation experts like the First People’s Cultural Council and the Institute for Language Information and Technology. Anybody can contribute information about a given language, though presumably an expert will moderate content to make sure its accurate. Still, this should be a wonderful way for groups of language speakers to take the lead in recording their languages for future generations, assuming Internet access is available.
You also don’t have to be a scholar to enjoy browsing the site, which has information about 3,054 endangered languages (though some languages have more documentation than others.) Just a language nerd. Go check it out!