Kaji Sherpa remembers two key parts about his childhood in Nepal: Being responsible for looking after a herd of cows and having an excellent view of the highest mountain in the world.
He would stare up at Mount Everest’s breathtaking expanse and the golden crown that was rumored to be sitting at its peak. “I used to think that one day, I will look at that golden crown,” Sherpa said in his native tongue of Sherpa, an unwritten language spoken by a community of only about 50,000 people.
Years later, “Mr. Speed”, as he is fondly called these days, did just that. Well, not the illusive golden crown part, but he made it to the top of the mountain and now is known to hold the speed record for climbing Everest.
His story is one of almost a dozen personal narratives recorded for the Endangered Language Alliance’s (ELA) Voices of the Himalayas project in an attempt to document endangered dialects and “deeply meaningful human experiences,” said project coordinator Nawang Tsering Gurung.
But the project is only one example of the work that the language alliance has done over the last six years in an effort to help revitalize and meticulously document languages before all fluent speakers are gone.
The world’s languages are disappearing at an unparalleled rate. Hundreds of them have shriveled down to only a few fluent speakers, and within a century, many of the world’s 7,000 languages are expected to have disappeared altogether, according to the Endangered Language Alliance’s website.
Read more: The Daily Beast