Facebook working to save endangered languages

Helo pawb o Safleoedd Nicely Done, rydym yn gobeithio eich bod chi’n cael diwrnod gwych. Do you what that sentence says? Probably not. It’s Welsh and it just says hello from Nicely Done Sites and we hope that you are having a great day. Welsh is one of hundreds of endangered languages around the world.

These include critically endangered languages like Parji (also known as Duruwa, a tribal language from Central India) and Argobba (a language in Central Ethiopia), where the youngest speakers are elderly and even then only speak the language rarely and this extend to vulnerable languages like Faroese (a descendant of the Norse language spoken mostly on the Faroe Islands) and Guiqiang (a language found in rural Western China) where children speak the language but only at home.

Many endangered languages all over the planet

There are many other languages in between. In 2011 UNESCO compiled a list of the endangered languages of the world as well as the extinct languages of the past. Humans have spoken a lot of different tongues on this planet, that’s for sure. This list was compiled to help to try to save as many of these languages as possible the same way preservation efforts are underway to save endangered species. With more than half of the languages on the list expected to become extinct by the end of this century or sooner it is now or never.

Facebook trying to save Corsican

Social media may prove to be a boon to the survival of some of these languages. In 2016 linguistic experts sat down to add the endangered language Corsican to the list of available languages for Facebook. Not only were the common words like “like” and “friend” translated into Corsican but several other phrases were adapted to the language. This was the culmination of nearly two years of work to add the language to the social media platform. The goal was to try to make Corsican more acceptable in the everyday vernacular and thus help to save the language.

Corsican was a good pilot language to try. The language is spoken on the Island of Corsica and a dialect can also be heard on the island of Sardinia to the south as well. Corsican is very similar to Italian being a part of the Genoan Republic (modern day Northern Italy) and later an independent nation until 1768 when the French conquered it. The island is still a French possession and if it sounds familiar it is the birthplace of Napoleon Bonaparte. While it is believed that about 65% of the island’s 330,000 people understand the language today and about 10% speak it as their first language the island has seen a dramatic linguistic shift since World War 2 and French is becoming more the more dominant language. The language was dying out in the 1980s until the French government made an effort to save it but today only about 25% of people under 25 understand the language.

So far Corsican has been the only language added to Facebook though Welsh (Cymraeg) already exists in Facebook but this could extend to other vulnerable languages like Sicilian, Scots and Basque. This could help to make these languages more acceptable in conversation and save them with younger generations.

Social media could be the only way to save some languages

As history changes and the world evolves there will be a day when English too is threatened like this. How will the world understand our history if it cannot read our language? That is what these languages and many others are faced with today. The key to any language’s survival is adaptation by younger generations and social media is the perfect place to do so.

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