Language Documentation: Past – Present – Future

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Since 2000, the Volkswagen Foundation has allocated 28 million euros for linguistic projects in 71 regions on all continents. From June 5-7, 2013, more than 150 experts from around the world discussed the results of the initiative and an agenda for the future in Hanover.

Dr Felicity Meakins bei der Abschlusskonferenz zur Förderinitiative "Dokumentation bedrohter Sprachen in Schloss Herrenhausen.
Dr Felicity Meakins bei der Abschlusskonferenz zur Förderinitiative "Dokumentation bedrohter Sprachen in Schloss Herrenhausen. (Foto: Max Kesberger für VolkswagenStiftung)

According to extimates by UNESCO, about half of today's 6,500 languages will become extinct within the next one hundred years. "Large languages" such as Chinese, English, Spanish and Portuguese dominate the world. Even today, three-quarters of all other languages only present minute numbers of speakers that account for only one percent of humanity in total.

But if a language dies, this also means that a piece of the cultural diversity of our world dies with it. In 1999, the Volkswagen Foundation therefore initiated  the program "Documentation of Endangered Languages" (DobeS). Since then, some 100 languages from northeastern Siberia to the Marquesas Islands were documented with the support of the DobeS-program.

Besuch bei Sprechern bedrohter Sprachen.

Bedrohte Sprachwelten: Sprachwelten in der Südsee

Ulrike Mosel, Universität Kiel, und Nicholas Evans, Australian National University Canberra

As part of the "Documentation of Endangered Languages​​" funding initiative, countless sound recordings of conversations, sentences and individual words were made. Some are here to listen:

Dokumentation bedrohter Sprachen - Audiomitschnitt

Waima'a, Osttimor

Dokumentation bedrohter Sprachen - Audiomitschnitt

Beaver, Kanada

Dokumentation bedrohter Sprachen - Audiomitschnitt

Bora, Peru

Video on the Documentation of Endangered Languages

In the video portal sciencemovies.de, the anthropologist Soraya Hosni and her colleagues give an insight into their research on the Pacific island of Ambrym. Here, less than 1,000 people still speak the endangered language "Daakaka". More information under: "Who Can Still Speak Daakaka?"