How Wikitongues is saving world languages from linguicide

“In the next 80 years, 3,000 languages are expected to disappear.” That’s what it says on the homepage of the Wikitongues website. And then it adds: “We won’t let that happen.”

Last week, ‘we’ was Daniel Bogre Udell, one of two original founders of Wikitongues, and Kristen Tcherneshoff, its volunteer-in-chief. The frontline of their fight: Bedford. They were there to open a new ‘chapter’ of their non-profit organisation at Bedford School. It would be the first of its kind in Europe.

Wikitongues is a young company (founded in 2014), powered by an ever-expanding volunteer base that seeks to envelope the globe in its all-encompassing embrace. While we were talking in Bedford the news came through that three more recruits had come on board, from three different points in Kazakhstan.

The brief is to provide a refuge, a safe space, a home, for all the world’s languages. Especially, but not only, the endangered ones. Wikitongues volunteers are building an exhaustive database of audiovisual testimony, but Daniel and Kristen, and fellow co-founder Freddie (Federico Andrade) are as much activists as archivists. They are less interested in preserving dead languages for the academic interest of posterity than in protecting and growing living ones, and helping to sustain the communities that speak them.

Increasingly, Wikitongues is motivated by educational imperatives. Daniel and Kristen want people even younger than they are (mid-20s) to appreciate the vital importance of linguistic diversity. The next day they would be teaching Català and Kiswahili to the Bedford boys and opening their minds to a host of possibilities. Contrary to the idea that post-Brexit Britain is going to be strictly monolingual, they stress the truth that the United Kingdom, and in particular the south of England, is already one of the most linguistically diverse places on earth

Read more: The Independent

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