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Internet breathes life into dying languages

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  • Robert Schmidt
    http://www.financialexpress.com/latest_full_story.php?content_id=167024 Wednesday, June 13, 2007 Infotech Internet breathes life into dying languages REUTERS
    Message 1 of 1 , Jun 14, 2007
      http://www.financialexpress.com/latest_full_story.php?content_id=167024

      Wednesday, June 13, 2007

      Infotech

      Internet breathes life into dying languages

      REUTERS

      Holyhead, Wales, June 13: Endangered languages like Welsh, Navajo and
      Breton have regained speakers and popularity in their communities and are
      now even ‘cool’ for kids--thanks to the Internet.

      Welsh language expert David Crystal said the Internet could forestall the
      dismal fate of about half of the world's 6,500 languages, which are doomed
      to extinction by the end of the 21st century at a rate of about two
      language deaths a month.

      "The Internet offers endangered languages a chance to have a public voice
      in a way that would not have been possible before," said Crystal, who has
      written over 50 books on language including ‘The Cambridge Encyclopaedia of
      Language’.

      Languages at risk of extinction are appearing on blogs, instant messaging,
      chat rooms, video site www.youtube.com and social networking site
      www.myspace.com, and their presence in the virtual world curries favour
      with youngsters who speak them.

      "It doesn't matter how much activism you engage in on behalf of a language
      if you don't attract the teenagers, the parents of the next generation of
      children," Crystal, who was raised speaking English and Welsh, said.

      "And what turns teenagers on more than the Internet these days? If you can
      get a language out there, the youngsters are much more likely to think it's
      cool."

      Online free encyclopaedia www.wikipedia.org, written and built by
      volunteers, has entries in dozens of endangered languages, from native
      American Cherokee to the Austronesian language Tetum, spoken by less than a
      million people in East Timor, to the Maori language of New Zealand.

      Tens of Welsh chat rooms exist for its 600,000 speakers--just over 20 per
      cent of Wales--where young people look for the best pubs in town, or hunt
      for potential dates.

      Crystal said there are 50-60 languages in the world which have one last
      speaker, and around 2,000 have never been written.

      "If these languages die, they are gone forever. This is a huge intellectual
      loss to humanity. The Internet is very important in this respect," he said.

      Money is usually required to go virtual however, and this is problematic
      for African and indigenous South American languages, where resources are
      low and governments favour dominant languages Spanish, French and English.

      Native American languages, especially Navajo, are fortunate to have many
      virtual communities on the Internet as most are funded by the lucrative
      casinos the Navajos run, Crystal said.

      "To put it into perspective only two to four percent of the world's
      botanical and zoological species are in serious danger, whereas it's 50 per
      cent of languages. The language crisis hasn't attracted the same degree of
      public awareness".
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