An open database of endangered languages has been launched by researchers in the hope of creating a free, online portal that will give people access to the world’s disappearing spoken traditions. …
It includes records for 3,524 world languages, from those deemed “vulnerable”, to those that, like Latin, remain well understood but are effectively moribund or extinct.
Researchers hope that the pilot database will enable them to “crowd-source” information from all over the world about both the languages themselves and the stories, songs, myths, folklore and other traditions that they convey.
Users can search by the number of speakers, level of endangerment, region or country. … Of the 3,524 languages listed, about 150 are in an extremely critical condition. In many of these cases, the number of known living speakers has fallen to single figures, or even just one.
We will only succeed, however, if the project is of use and interest to indigenous communities themselves. While Cambridge may be the location where materials are hosted and maintained, both physically and digitally, communities will require copies of the output so that future generations can access and understand the cultural knowledge and language of their ancestors.
Generations of anthropologists have had the privilege of working with indigenous communities and have recorded volumes of oral literature while in the field, but many of our colleagues have not known what to do with these recordings once they finish analysing them. The World Oral Literature Project can provide a way for the material that has been gathered to be preserved and to be disseminated in innovative ways, when that is ethically and culturally appropriate.
(Thanks, peacay and Paul!)