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6 Creative Ways to Save Endangered Languages Before They Disappear

Each year twenty-five languages die out, but these groups are developing creative ways to keep other endangered languages from becoming extinct.

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Tristan Ahtone/Fronteras

Translate “Star Wars”

Thanks to Navajo Nation Museum director Manuelito Wheeler, members of the Navajo tribe can now hear “May the force be with you” in their native tongue. In an effort to preserve the endangered Navajo language, which has gone
from 178,000 to 169,000 speakers since 2003, a team of five
translators worked with Lucasfilm to dub Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope, making it the first-ever film in the Navajo language. It premiered at the Navajo Nation Fair in Window Rock, Arizona, on July 3, 2013.

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Track Tweets

Kevin Scannell, a mathematics and computer science professor at St. Louis University, is attempting to save dying languages 140 characters at a time. Scannell scans Twitter to identify words and phrases that could be from endangered languages; so far he has identified more than 100 of them. Findings posted on Indigenoustweets.com allow speakers of Basqu, Haitian Creole, Cymraeg, Tamasheq, and other dialects to create communities around their shared tongue.

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The Long Now Foundation's

Create a New Rosetta Sone

A panel of linguists, digital-etching experts, and artists are the creators of the Rosetta Disk, a three-inch nickel disk etched with 13,000 microscopic pages in 1,500 different languages. They’ve taken an intentionally analog approach to preserving endangered languages; the waterproof disk can withstand high temperatures and is resistant to electromagnetic radiation. You also don’t need a computer to read it, though you do need a microscope.

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Mandy Migues

Go Shopping

Colonization of Louisiana in the early 1700s lead to the development of several distinct French dialects in the state, including the Cajun French, Colonial French, and Louisiana Creole French that are still spoken today. To preserve this piece of Louisiana history, a group of French-speaking young professionals has organized a “piestres en masse,” or cash mob, to patronize French-speaking or French-friendly businesses such as bakeries, supermarkets, and
cafes on the third Saturday of every month.

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Jack Hollingsworth/Thinkstock

Get Immersive

In an effort to save British Columbia’s aboriginal languages from extinction, the First Peoples’ Cultural Council created the Master-Apprentice Program in 2008. Masters of the dialects are paired with novices for a three-year, 900-hour immersive study, during which they speak only the native language (no English allowed). Upon graduation the apprentices become masters, passing the native tongue on to others.

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Zoe Brookes

Make It Art

Tim Brookes doesn’t understand the languages he carves into maple planks, but his art (endangeredalphabets.com) helped the indigenous children of the Chittagog Hill Tracks in Bangladesh learn to read and write in their native language. Brookes, who carves words, phrases, and poems in various alphabets to raise awareness of endangered languages, worked with a Marma educator and other artists to create the first school books in the indigenous tongues of Bangladesh.

Reader's Digest
Originally Published in Reader's Digest