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Online resource gives new life to endangered languages

EU-funded scientists have established an educational website in order to help preserve endangered languages and better inform the public.

Developed through the EU-funded INNET project, the free and openly accessible website on endangered languages builds on the important work of previous cultural heritage initiatives and features search tools, educational material and interactive maps. Teaching institutions as well as researchers will find the resource practical and easy to use. ‘The project was implemented as an answer to the question of how digital – and specifically non-written multimedia cultural heritage resources – could be effectively maintained and preserved for the future,’ explains project coordinator Dr Dagmar Jung from the University of Cologne, Germany. ‘This challenge has to date not been tackled by the wider scientific and academic community.' At the same time, the project team wanted to make these valuable resources accessible to the wider public. ‘This meant that the educational component of the project took on a bigger role than we initially expected,’ says Jung. ‘In addition to improving networking on digital resource innovation relating to language and culture, the project aimed to boost education on linguistic diversity and multilingualism at the high school level.’ An international summer school for MA and PhD students focused its courses on technological issues of language and music archives of lesser-used languages. ‘Participating students came from many European countries, but also from Ethiopia, India, and the US,’ says Jung. ‘Leading scholars in their field gave lectures on technological implementations as well as linguistic background and methodology. In addition, practical tutorials were held by the same instructors so that an immediate learning effect could take place. The summer school was considered highly successful by the students, some of them keeping in close contact with the INNET project and supplying their own data to the website.’ Other project achievements include the establishment of five new regional archives, and annual training events for the use of proper and up-to-date standards and tools. Archivists from Argentina, Brazil, Ecuador, Finland, Indonesia, Mexico, Peru, Russia and Sweden, as well as partners from Germany, Hungary and the Netherlands were actively involved in these events. ‘Participants at these events were able to present and discuss common issues relevant to the operation of a language archive,’ says Jung. ‘Regional language archives also received additional technical support with the operation of their archive.’ An important predecessor to INNET was the CLARIN project, which established a distributed network of organisations hosting language resources and related services. This distributed data network has sites all over Europe, typically universities, research institutions, libraries and public archives. The INNET project succeeded in transferring some of the knowledge acquired in CLARIN to a wider network of archives of endangered languages. The establishment of an expert network will continue to help showcase and disseminate information on endangered cultures and languages. This is a pressing concern; globalisation and fast-paced technological innovation continue to negatively impact many vulnerable cultures and languages, with many of the latter forecast to become extinct in the coming decades. Digital archives will help to gather and disseminate valuable cultural and language materials for future generations, spark interest amongst students who might otherwise never be able to access endangered languages, and support the preservation of our shared cultural heritage. For further information please visit: INNET project website Languages in Danger website



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