As a recent guest on PRI's To The Best of Our Knowledge, Associate Professor of Linguistics K. David Harrison discussed his work documenting rare and dying languages and the "language warriors" who continue to speak their ancestral languages despite pressure to conform to the mainstream.
During the 10-minute interview, Harrison speaks about the vast trove of information that is lost as languages disappear. "You're losing a whole set of knowledge, tradition, history, mythology, wisdom, that simply that cannot be directly translated or transferred over into English," he says. "I've had the privilege of walking through the Australian outback with elders, walked through the Siberian forest with elders, and the knowledge they have is just astounding of those ecosystems. ... That knowledge does not exist in English," he says.
A renowned linguist, Harrison travels to some of the most remote places in the world, engaging with different speakers of endangered languages and helping them capture their unique words in "talking dictionaries."
"We are in the middle of an extinction crisis, one that parallels and even exceeds the extinction of plant and animal species. But there is a vibrant global movement for language revitalization," Harrison says. "It's exciting to see these communities around the world leveraging new technologies and making a renewed commitment to keep their languages."