Become a Wikitongues Volunteer

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Engagement

Location (s):

  • Online
  • Worldwide

Overview

Join our community of volunteers and help defend cultural diversity worldwide. In the next eighty years, 3,000 languages are expected to disappear. We won't let that happen.

Details

We're a global movement

Wikitongues is powered by the hard work of over 800 contributors on every continent.

We fight language loss

To empower community activists, Wikitongues is building the first public archive of every language in the world.

Language preservation

Wikitongues collects video oral histories from each of the world's more than 7,000 language communities, preserving our common cultural heritage and amplifying stories from around the world. We publish our videos under a creative commons license to facilitate free educational use and raise awareness about the vast sum of human experience.

We compile word lists, phrasebooks, and dictionaries, a crucial step toward ensuring that every language is well documented, preserving it for future generations. We work to guarantee that students always have access, academics always have data, and activists always have resources to sustain and defend their cultures.

Our work empowers people to share their languages with everyone, making linguistic preservation easier than ever.

Our cultural heritage is at risk

As the effects of climate change and globalization take shape, it's expected that half the world's languages will disappear.

What is language loss?

Language loss is the process of losing your mother tongue, a pandemic phenomenon affecting nearly half the world’s cultures. In fact, in the next eighty years, at least 3,000 languages are expected to disappear. A catastrophic tragedy on an intimate, human scale, the death of thousands of languages means not just the loss of grammar systems and vocabularies but the collapse of the communities who use them.

Apologists for this reality often argue that culture is dynamic, and that languages have always gone extinct to make room for new ones. After all, there would be no French without the death of Latin, and no English had Old Saxon not faded away. While this is without a doubt, the twenty-first century’s rate of language loss is unprecedented. It stems not from the natural ebb and flow of human diversity, but rather from the marginalizing forces of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, when governments enforcing assimilation began pressuring minorities to abandon their cultures and adopt arbitrarily-defined ‘national languages’.

While most explicit persecution has largely subsided, little has been done in reparation. Today, with as few as 5% of the world’s languages recognized by governments or serviced by media and technology, communities impacted by language loss receive little to no support from the public or private sectors. And as the side effects of climate change, economic globalization, and humanitarian crises provoke a rise in forced migration, more and more communities are poised to experience language loss—and with it, the potential collapse of their cultures.

Language diversity is most threatened in regions where legacies of exploitation and discrimination prominently endure.

Why should we prevent language loss?

When a community loses their language, bonds to their heritage are severed and the foundation of cultural identity is weakened. In fact, studies have shown that language loss is a strong factor in social alienation, leading to higher rates of underperformance in schools, depression, and even suicide. Maintaining our linguistic diversity, then, is a question of social justice, as well as economic development.

It’s also a question of research for the sciences and humanities; when a community loses their language, humanity loses generations of knowledge embodied in art, literature, and oral tradition. For instance, by comparing languages from North America to their Siberian counterparts, linguists were able to find evidence of the Bering Strait migration. Working closely with residents of southern Vanuatu, botanists continue to learn about biodiversity from the knowledge encoded in the vocabulary of local languages.

When we talk about stopping language loss, we're not worrying about dictionary sales or stocking a museum for posterity. We’re talking about preventing the collapse of human communities and the atrophy of culture. As we have seen, it's impossible to grapple with the collapse of linguistic diversity without also engaging global struggles for human rights; for environmental, economic, and racial justice.

Our work is made possible by volunteers from around the world. Become a volunteer now

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