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B 3/12

Fighting for minorities

how the Internet can save endangered languages

More than a third of the world’s population natively speaks one of the five most common languages on the planet: Chinese, Spanish, English, Hindi and Arabic. However, in the world, there are almost 7 thousand different languages, half of which may disappear by the end of the century.

languages safeguarding

Languages such as Breton and Gaelic, or the indigenous population’s languages, are already extinct or on the verge of extinction.

But why do some languages disappear?

The most common answer is the cultural imposition of a foreign language – as happened in Ireland and Scotland with English – or the prohibition of communicating with local languages (such as native American languages), or simply the birth of modern states which promoted the standardisation of national idioms.

Therefore, the extinction of minority languages is a modern process which is an alarming phenomenon on a cultural level: losing a language means losing a distinctive and unique way of thinking and seeing the world. This is why UNESCO decided to map the endangered languages through the project Atlas of the World’s Languages in Danger, which aims to raise awareness about the danger of extinction and the need to safeguard the world’s linguistic diversity by noting the condition of the languages at risk and the trends of linguistic diversity on a global level.

linguistic diversity

Luckily, while the effects of modernity have contributed to the affirmation of some languages on others (just think that 50% of the contents on the Internet are in English!), the progressive digitalisation of society in the last decades has made news travel fast, increasing the awareness towards these issues on the web. Many initiatives are promoted online to protect and preserve endangered languages.

One of these is the action by some streamers on Twitch. They have spontaneously gathered in groups to support each other and create communities around languages like Basque, Galician, Breton and others. Examples of this are the collective Galician Games, with 58 channels in Galician, or even the campaign #3000Twitz carried out by the basque streamer Arkkuso, who stated: 

Today if you aren’t on the internet you don’t exist, the same will soon happen also with languages

intangible heritage

Language communities also operate on other online platforms such as YouTube, where you can find Livonian language lessons, a native language of the north-western areas of Latvia, or even lessons in languages of native populations like the Mazahuas of central Mexico, or the Sioux of America. There are also channels dedicated to safeguarding Italian dialects set up just like a course, like the Milanese dialect course, which has over 60 video lessons.

Concerning this issue, we emphasise that dialects are minority languages that need to be protected. In Italy, there are really a lot of them still alive. In Officine B12, we believe we can actively contribute to the protection of the intangible heritage constituted by the dialects and the regional linguistic traditions. That is why we welcome communication projects aimed at their safeguarding, as in the case of Alberobello Monumento Abitato and Arteca for which we have created multimedia content in the local dialect.