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Tuesday, May 25, 2021

By James Griffiths, CNN Business

The internet threatened to speed up the death of endangered languages. Could it save them instead?

Noah Higgs hated learning Irish in school. He hated the way it was taught, overly formal and disconnected from ordinary people's lives. Most of all he hated the effect the lessons had on his fellow students' willingness to speak the language. 

But the Dublin native never lost his love for Irish, nor his opinion that more people should be learning the language. 
Today, almost 40% of the 7,000 languages spoken worldwide are endangered, according to the United Nations. More are going extinct every year
It was once widely feared that the internet revolution would speed up this decline. If developers and smartphone manufacturers aren't willing to invest in supporting minority languages, that would cut off people who speak them from an important way to communicate and trap those languages in the past. 
Higgs, 23, though, is one of a small cohort of educators and activists reinventing how minority languages are taught and preserved online by using cutting-edge technology.
When he was 17, Higgs "had this kind of crazy teenage idea." He had begun using Duolingo, a mobile language-learning app, to study French, and wondered if the creators had considered adding support for Irish. 
At the time in early 2013, there were five languages on Duolingo, the smallest of which, Italian, has an estimated 67.9 million speakers worldwide. By comparison, at its height in the 18th century, there were an estimated four million Irish speakers. Today the figure is closer to 1.2 million.
"I didn't get a reply," Higgs said.
But his email wasn't ignored. Inside Duolingo's open-plan, Silicon Valley-style headquarters in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, change was afoot. Within five years, the language startup would build a library of over 30 languages, including some of the most imperiled on the planet.

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Losing Language, Losing Worlds

An interactive Language Experience


Updated 6:28 AM ET, Fri October 16, 2020

In April, the editors of the Oxford English Dictionary did something unusual. For the previous 20 years, they had issued quarterly updates to announce new words and meanings selected for inclusion. These updates have typically been made available in March, June, September and December.
In the late spring, however, and again in July, the dictionary's editors released special updates, citing a need to document the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the English language.
Although the editors have documented many coronavirus-related linguistic shifts, some of their observations are surprising. They claim, for example, that the pandemic has produced only one truly new word: the acronym COVID-19.
    Most of the coronavirus-related changes that the editors have noted have to do with older, more obscure words and phrases being catapulted into common usage, such as reproduction number and social distancing. They've also documented the creation of new word blends based on previously existing vocabulary.

      The dictionary of record

      The Oxford English Dictionary aspires to be the most extensive and complete record of the language and its history.
        In 1884, parts of the first edition were released. It wasn't completed until 1928. Over the ensuing years, additional volumes of new words were published to supplement the first edition, and these were integrated into a second edition that appeared in 1989. This is the version you'll find in most libraries. A digital release, on CD-ROM, followed in 1992.

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