“Technology has a lot to answer for when it comes to certain languages gaining supremacy over others, and so it’s good to see an effort where technology is being used to claw at least some of that dominance back.” –Ingrid Lunden
Vizzuality, a data visualization company, partnered with Google.org and the Alliance for Linguistic Diversity to provide design and development for the Endangered Languages Project, an online collaborative project to preserve linguistic diversity. Of the 7,000 languages currently spoken, it is estimated that, without intervention, over half will disappear by the end of this century. The Endangered Languages Project website allows communities of endangered language speakers, linguists and supporters to record, view and share research on endangered languages. It also provides a platform to discuss how to document and maintain threatened languages. Vizzuality has utilized data analysis and visualization to create a scalable user-friendly tool that displays information on over 3,000 endangered languages.
The Vizzuality team provided interaction and visual design, front-end and back-end development and map design and development. Creating the collaborative components of the site involved taking into consideration different users’ needs (from expert linguists to language speakers and volunteers); editing and displaying academic language research in a visually interesting way, without compromising its rigor; and supporting linguistic standards like OLAC for language metadata. Vizzuality staff say they “used a modular design approach to accommodate all the information on 3,000 languages that is already available” and “an important effort was made to make visible the user activity and the submitted content so participants can meet each other and collaborate.” The site is built with Open Source technologies like Django, which run on Google infrastructure.
Ingrid Lunden explains the project’s relevance: “If the site’s leaders can think of ways of effectively using this project to reach the right targets, there are many advantages to preserving disappearing languages: language has a direct relation to cultural identity, history and by consequence, the future.”
Project managers, Clara Rivera Rodriguez and Jason Rissman of Google.org suggest their goal is to combine disparate cultural preservation projects to have a broad impact through the Endangered Languages Project: “Documenting the 3,000+ languages that are on the verge of extinction is an important step in preserving cultural diversity… “By bridging independent efforts from around the world we hope to make an important advancement in confronting language endangerment. We hope you’ll join us.”