Language Observatory


How to define "Endangered Language"

Conventional Definition

"Atlas of the World's Languages in Danger of Disappearing"[1] defines five levels for endangerment of language.

Potentially endangered languagedecreasing numbers of cildren learn the language
Endangered languagethe youngest speakers are young adults
Seriously endangered languagethe youngest speakers have reached or passed middle age
Moribund languageonly a few elderly speakers are left
+Extinct languageno speakers are left

As shown above, basically "aging of speakers" is employed as a single criteria of endangerment. In another page of the publication, we find following definition: "What exactly does it mean when a language is referred to as being 'endangered'? Basically, the language of any community that is no longer learned by children, or at least by a larger part of the children of that community (say, at least 30 per cent), should be regarded as 'endangered' or at least 'potentially endangered'."[2]

So when number of children who learn a language declines and goes below 30 per cent of the generation, the language goes into the list of 'Endangered Language', then along with aging of the speakers, the language steps up the ladder of endangerment.

Wikipedia has another criteria for endangered langauge.[4] It lists following three criterion, but almost similar to the criteria mentioned above.
1. The number of speakers currently living.
2. The mean age of native and/or fluent speakers.
3. The percentage of the youngest generation acquiring fluency with the language in question.

Next Question

Here, I would like to ask a question "then, how to define the level of endangerment of a language on the Internet?". Imagine, a language may disappear from the scene in the cyberspace even when many speakers keep using it as means of communication in daily life. Aging of speakers is of course the important factor, but disappearing of a language on the Internet happenes far before the point when the last speaker dies or ceases to use it. In the reality, we have rather to admit that many languages on the globe are even not born yet on the Internet!!!

The criteria of the endangerment of language on the Internet is something more than the existence of speakers and the aging of them. It should cover much wider range of factors and phenomenons like availablity of written documents on the Internet, official use of a language by the e-government service, use of a language as medium of education and knowledge creation on the Internet, various technical tools which enable users to take advantage of the pool of electronic-form knowledge written in a language, etc.

My Proposal

In consdiering all these factors, I am proposing several criterion for that. The followings are the tentative list shows a few of those.

  1. Number of web pages written in a language
  2. Number of web pages divided by the number of speakers of a language
  3. Availability of a language at the government site
  4. Availability of a language at the university and/or other educational institutions' site
  5. Availability of online newspapers/magazines written in a language
  6. Availability of search engine(s) for pages written in a language
  7. Availability of online radio in a language
  8. Availability of chat rooms in a language
  9. Availability of globally standardized charset for the script used to write a language
  10. Frequency of updating of web pages written in a language
In principle, all these data can be drawn from Language Obsrvatory's crawled/analyzed database. I am waiting for your comments.

[1] "Atlas of the World's Languages in Danger of Disappearing: Second edition, revised, enlarged and updated", Edited by Stephen A. Wurm, Cartographed by Ian Heyward, UNESCO Publising, 2001, ISBN:92-3-103255-0.
[2] ibid. p.14
[3] Interactive Atlas of the World's Languages in Danger of Disappearing online
[4] endangered language at Wikipedia

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African Web Language Survey Project

Language Observatory, African Academy of Languages (ACALAN) and Linguasphere Observatory have been collaborating on African Web Language Survey Project since Tunis phase of WSIS held in Tunis during 14-18 November 2005. It conincided with the launch of the African ICT Week initiated by African Union Commission.

Objectives of the project are:
  1. To get the most accurate language map of African cyberspace and the status of “digital divide” in African continent, and to raise public awareness of it
  2. To demonstrate the usefulness of multi-stakeholders’ collaboration under the umbrella of the World Network for Linguistic Diversity
Expected deliverables of the project are:
  1. Language Map of African Cyberspace (Cyberspace Language Census Report): To show how many pages are written in each language, in each country domain.
  2. Web Usage Maturity Analysis Report: To show how web technology are used in each country domain. For example, web links, web maintenance, server technology, open source software usage, etc.
  3. Web Infrastructure Report: To show network performance and geographical locations of web servers.

DateActions & Events
2005/11/15The Round Table organized by African Academy of Languages (ACALAN). The meeting was held as one of parallel events registered at World Summit on Information Society (WSIS), Tunis Phase. Members involved in this project first met and discussed the common interests.(see archive)
2005/11/19ACALAN, Linguasphere Observatory and Language Observatory had a meeting at Hotel Acropole, nearby the WSIS Conference Complex, to discuss about a joint action plan. (see archive)
2006/02/11The experimental survey draft of Cyberspace Language Census was circulated among the members for their review
2006/02/21-24The 7th International Mother Language Day cerebrated at UNESCO Headquarter, Paris. During this week members discussed the project and future action agenda. (see UNESCO Web News)
2006/??African Web Survey Workshop will be organized by members, hosted by ACALAN in Bamako, Mali. Several African eperts will be invited to join to the workshop to have a detailed discussion how to implement the survey.
2006/11/14-202nd African ICT Week in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. During this event, the final reports of the project will be announced.

[1] Interactive Atlas of the World's Languages in Danger of Disappearing online
[2] African Union Commission's site on African ICT Week

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Lernu! a multi-lingual website about Esperanto

The word lernu is Esperanto for "learn", in the jussive mood.

Lernu! is a website hosting several free multilanguage courses designed to teach Esperanto. The site features courses catering to different levels of difficulty, featuring vocabulary words, drills, and grammar instruction. Students who encounter an unfamiliar word can click to immediately see a translation in their language. Tutors grade the course by hand, and also answer any questions about the language. The site was launched December 21, 2002.

The site also contains Esperanto books and music, electronic mail and instant messenger-like services for registered users, games, forums, and information about upcoming Esperanto conferences.

Languages covered by Lernu! as at 20060415:

en English

ca Catala

cs Čeština

da Dansk

de Deutsch

eo Esperanto

es Espanol

fi Suomi

fr Francais

he עברית

hr Hrvatski

hu Magyar

it Italiano

ko 한국어

lt Lietuvių

nl Nederlands

no Norsk

pl Polski

pt Portugues

ru Русский

sk Slovenčina

sv Svenska

zh-cn 簡体中文

zh-tw 正體中文

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