Today I’d like to take a break from my usual format to talk a bit about Wikitongues, what they do, and my volunteer work with them. Wikitongues is a non-profit organization whose basic aim is to empower people to document, share, and build community around their languages – every language in the world, to be exact. The original impetus to work with languages was the alarming rate at which they are dying across the globe. Around half of the roughly 6,000-7,000 languages spoken worldwide are in serious danger of dying out over the next century. Were this rate of extinction to happen ecologically, with half of all species dying out, it would be considered a catastrophic fate. Language death, in contrast, gets very little attention, as speakers of rich and beautiful languages are cornered into abandoning their mother tongue under economic, cultural, and political pressures. It seems that many believe that in order to survive, their language must die.
a video I contributed of my friend Suri speaking Yiddish
In the face of this dilemma, Wikitongues strives to celebrate linguistic diversity and create a platform for education, organization, and inspiration to fuel the preservation and revitalization of the world’s linguistic treasures. In addition to the ever-growing online database of personal narrative videos in dozens of languages, Wikitongues has also created the app Poly to aid in the documenting and sharing of words and phrases in any language. Ultimately, the success of Wikitongues depends on the involvement of community members, and I personally think that it is essential for any language preservation work to be community-driven.
Most recently, Wikitongues has also launched an online publication on Medium: The Wikitongues Blog. I’ve had the pleasure of volunteering on a team of great writers, providing long-form content to highlight lesser-known languages and the struggles they face in the modern world. My first project has been a five part series about Creole languages, which has been a wonderful opportunity to look more critically at the history and development of Creoles and their treatment in a Eurocentric world. You can find my articles here.
And to conclude my plug for Wikitongues, I encourage anyone interested to get involved. Create or collect quality video recordings to contribute to Wikitongues here or find out about other volunteer opportunities here. The work of language empowerment is never over, and it simply doesn’t happen without everyone doing their part.