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Digital tools can save languages from extinction: Scientist

February 19, 2012 - Washington

Digital technology will help expand the use of endangered languages, a scientist has said.

"Small languages are using social media, YouTube, text messaging and various technologies to expand their voice and expand their presence," an associate professor of linguistics at Swarthmore College and a National Geographic Fellow, K David Harrison, as saying.

"It's what I like to call the flipside of globalisation. We hear a lot about how globalisation exerts negative pressures on small cultures to assimilate. But a positive effect of globalisation is that you can have a language that is spoken by only five or 50 people in one remote location, and now through digital technology that language can achieve a global voice and a global audience," he added.

Harrison has been speaking at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS).

Dr Harrison said many languages will be lost eventually as remaining speakers die off but added that new digital tools can save some languages that are in the verge of extinction.

"Everything that people know about the planet, about plants, animals, about how to live sustainably, the polar ice caps, the different ecosystems that humans have survived in - all this knowledge is encoded in human cultures and languages, whereas only a tiny fraction of it is encoded in the scientific literature," the BBC quoted Harrison, as saying.

"If we care about sustainability and survival on the planet, we all benefit from having this knowledge base persevered," he added.


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