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How new technology could help preserve indigenous languages

At first glance, you might think the internet is reducing language diversity. English and Chinese are dominant, with 80 per cent of online communication in just 10 languages.

With more and more people writing les emails and die Blogs, is there any hope for the less common indigenous languages? Of the world’s roughly 6500 languages, it’s estimated one goes extinct every two weeks. Most of them are never written down, let alone making it onto the internet

But the picture is not quite as gloomy as it might look. And now some experts believe that technology such as Google Voice and Apple’s Siri could provide a glimmer of hope for some of the most endangered languages.

The world wide web is far from monolingual, with 95 per cent of use in 300 languages. This provides a strong incentive for online companies to provide more multilingual services.

Google is playing its part by developing voice recognition software in these 300 languages. Its “voice hunters” travel the globe to record native speakers, creating a vast database of samples. This could be an invaluable tool for linguists if it is publicly available.

Dr Laura Welcher, of the Rosetta Project, believes research on these 300 could benefit the less common indigenous languages. They’re running the 300 Languages Project, a digital library that will eventually be scaled up to include all the world’s languages.

Apple’s voice-controlled personal assistant Siri is also becoming more multilingual, expanding to cover most of the internet’s top 10 languages by next year. This data could also help linguistic research, while it should become easier for Siri to add more languages.

It may be an uphill struggle, but new technology could ultimately help preserve the unique diversity of the world’s thousands of languages.

Hazel Mollison

Hazel Mollison edits and writes for the Lingo24 blog. After studying Italian and German at Cambridge University, she worked as a journalist for five years with regional and national newspapers. She enjoys writing about languages, translation, online marketing, and helping small businesses explore new opportunities.

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