Language endangerment is a worldwide crisis. There are too many endangered languages that should be studied and too few resources to work with them all immediately. By identifying the most crucial areas, we can go on targeted expeditions that will achieve as much as possible.
Over the next few years, we will visit all of our language hotspots in order to:
- Collect data
- Verify numbers
- Document local knowledge systems and cultures
- Create an up-to-date list and map of endangered languages
The information we gather during expeditions will allow us to:
- Bring wide attention to the issue of language loss
- Document languages and language groups
- Engage in language revitalization projects, to prevent language death in communities that want to preserve their language
- Understand how geography is related to language distribution
- Determine how linguistic diversity is linked to biodiversity
- Use mapping to understand language distribution and its relation to geography
We expect this project to have significant impact on our understanding of biodiversity and human adaptation. Endangered languages contain much (if not most) of humanity’s knowledge of how plant and animal species adapt and may be used within their natural habitats. Unfortunately, this knowledge remains largely unrecorded, unknown to Western science. Nor is this knowledge written down anywhere—since the majority of the world’s languages lack any kind of writing system—rendering it vulnerable to rapid extinction.
Within individual hotspots, we will make discoveries about the location, distribution, and endangerment status of specific languages, as well as the traditional knowledge systems they contain (for example, information about endangered or recently extinct animal species). This project will help establish closer ties between the study of endangered languages, community-based efforts to preserve and revitalize those languages, and awareness of biodiversity. It will build a broad knowledge base that will foster public discussion, scientific research, and indigenous community involvement.