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Google launches project to catalogue endangered languages online

The data crunching behemoth known as Google is sometimes taken to task for its obsession with collecting more information than possibly any other company in human history. But for the naysayers who would question the company's tactics, there is a bright side to Google's hunger for data and it is best represented by the company's latest effort, the Endangered Languages Project.

In collaboration with the Alliance for Linguistic Diversity, the site hopes to catalogue over 3,000 languages that are considered on the verge of extinction. Each language listed has its own page with video samples of the language being spoken, metadata about the language, and an area in which users can upload documents related to the study of that language. Languages are identified by location and assigned colour-coded tags designating them as: At Risk, Endangered, Severely Endangered, and Vitality Unknown. Part of the heavy lifting in getting the information database framed attractively was shared by data management and visualization company Vizzuality.

While the project itself is currently being managed by Google, the company hopes to eventually move into more of a support role for a wider group of language preservation professionals.

"Google has played a role in the development and launch of this project, but the long-term goal is for true experts in the field of language preservation to take the lead," said Google project leaders Clara Rivera Rodriguez and Jason Rissman. "As such, in a few months we'll officially be handing over the reins to the First Peoples' Cultural Council (FPCC) and The Institute for Language Information and Technology (The LINGUIST List) at Eastern Michigan University."

Although the Endangered Languages Project is designed to be inclusive and open to all contributors, the one catch is that adding information to the website apparently requires a Google account. Nevertheless, the project could serve to become a vital resource for accessing history and information buried in languages that have fallen out of popular use. To explain the effort, Google has produced a video outlining the project's goals, and if you have fluency in or information regarding an endangered language you can begin contributing immediately at the project's website.