Google launches Endangered Languages Project

21 Jun 2012

Today, Google has launched the Endangered Languages Project in an effort to support language preservations through technology and collaboration, and native speakers or scholars of Irish Gaelic are invited to contribute to the available information.

There are about 7,000 languages spoken in the world today, but it has been estimated that only half of these will still be spoken in 2100.

Languages are at risk when they aren’t passed on to new generations, and the loss of a language can also mean the loss of valuable scientific and cultural information. In an effort to help native speakers and language experts pass on and preserve endangered languages, Google has launched the Endangered Languages Project, a website highlighting data from the Catalogue of Endangered Languages (ELCat).

The ELCat documents research into the world’s most threatened languages and, it is hoped that, sharing this online will encourage feedback from language communities and academics which can then be incorporated into the current data to ensure the information is up to date and comprehensive.

Preservation through online collaboration

Through the site, Google is encouraging users to share recordings of native speakers and attempting to connect diaspora communities through social media to facilitate language learning. The site itself is available in seven languages and classifies endangered languages across the world as at-risk, endangered, severely endangered, or vitality unknown.

Irish Gaelic is, of course, included and classified as endangered, owing to a figure of less than 20,000 native speakers worldwide. Google has already enlisted a diverse group of collaborators to begin populating the site with manuscripts, articles, video, and audio samples, but other Irish Gaelic speakers and academics are encouraged to further these contributions.

Long-term goals

Part of the project involved working with groups around the world that support endangered languages, and this has led to the formation of the Alliance for Linguistic Diversity, which aims to accelerate efforts around documentation of these languages and support communities in protecting and revitalising them.

An advisory group has also been established to help to shape the site and ensure that the interests and needs of language communities are kept at its heart.

In a few months, the site will be taken over by the First Peoples’ Cultural Council and The Institute for Language Information and Technology at Eastern Michigan University. “Google has played a role in the development and launch of this project, but the long-term goal is for true experts in the field of language preservation to take the lead,” wrote project managers Clara Rivera Rodriguez and Jason Rissman in a blog post today.


Elaine Burke is the host of For Tech’s Sake, a co-production from Silicon Republic and The HeadStuff Podcast Network. She was previously the editor of Silicon Republic.