One of the peculiarities of internet-influenced globalization is that even as more information than ever can be archived, things like niche languages are at risk of disappearing. Google, which has long worked to put remote locations or ancient books on the web, now hopes to do the same thing with the over 3,000 languages experts say are at risk of disappearing in the next hundred years. Today, it announced the Endangered Languages Project, backed and organized by Google and built by the newly formed Alliance for Linguistic Diversity. The site, meant both for speakers of the languages and people interested in preserving them, functions like a kind of language wiki: subsections for each language include clips of people speaking it or linguistic "metadata," and a knowledge-sharing section contains best practices for interviews and documentation. Eventually, the project also hopes to connect communities who speak these languages.
Google currently heads the project, but it hopes to transfer ownership to the First Peoples' Cultural Council and The Institute for Language Information and Technology at Eastern Michigan University. Language "extinction" has been fought by academics, native speakers, and activists for many years, and a centralized project could help stop a phenomena the Alliance notes is "often related to oppression and injustice." At the same time, it's important to remember that this injustice is rarely limited to communication, and we hope the project works both on documenting languages and helping the people who speak them if necessary.