Like most of his compatriots in Kosovo, 19-year-old Plator Gashi grew up speaking Albanian.
As a linguistically curious young man (some might say, a “language nerd”), Gashi discovered the dialect he and his neighbors spoke — which is different from the one used across the border in Albania — was beginning to lose many of its older, richer expressions. Blame the influence of English, French and the general tendency to simplify language in the age of texting acronyms and Bitmojis.
“There are lot of very beautiful words and expressions that have started to fade away. A lot of people tend to use simpler language, and I think that is a shame,” Gashi says. “I’m not a purist, but not only do you lose words that are beautiful in an objective sense, they are also related to our culture.”
Gashi’s concern with preserving the uniqueness of his native dialect is not unique. Under pressure from economic globalization, the Internet, and government policies favoring centralization, regional dialects and languages are increasingly under threat. According to one oft-cited statistic from the United Nations, more than 3,000 languages currently spoken today will become extinct by the end of this century unless current trends are reversed.
But the Internet, home to polyglot YouTubers with dedicated fan bases, and language-rights activists who have built large communities on Facebook and Twitter, is also an indispensable tool for those who want to preserve endangered languages. As a volunteer with Wikitongues, a Brooklyn-based nonprofit dedicated to preserving and recording linguistic diversity, Gashi is at the forefront of the movement.
Read more: PRI