“A nation without a language is a nation without a heart.”
It is one of the most famous proverbs in Wales, the southwestern part of the United Kingdom. This means that a language is not only a tool of communication but also a medium to represent a community’s culture and worldview. In the Welsh language, it writes “cenedl heb iaith, cenedl heb galon.” The native language of the region is one of those on the brink of extinction, according to the UNESCO.
Minor European languages are at the risk of extinction in the digital ecosystem where major languages dominate the rest. Most global online services are provided in English, French and other major languages, making it inevitable for young natives of minor languages to be more accustomed to speaking the dominant languages than their mother tongues. If a native language is not taught properly, it will only go extinct over time.
The UNESCO projects that by the year 2100, there will not be any single speaker of half the world’s 7,000 languages. According to British linguist David Crystal, one language fades away on the globe every three months. The development of the Internet has fueled the trend of the lingual demise. Jill Evans, a researcher of language equality in the U.K. parliament warned last month in her column in a parliamentary magazine that the digital generations have posed a broader threat to European languages.
Evans advised that efforts to provide global online services in minor languages can prevent against their extinction. She also emphasized the importance of applying multi-national languages to automated translation, voice recognition and text-to-speech technology.
Meanwhile, efforts are being made to convert various languages into digital forms. The Oxford University Press publishes digital dictionaries in the Malay language and the Roman language in a project named “Oxford Global Language.” It is their Holy Grail to lay the foundation for AI to recognize not only major languages with numerous users but also minor ones.