If we talk about endangered languages we usually think of indigenous languages that are spoken by only a small group of people. Therefore the study titled “Europe’s Languages in the Digital Age” by META-NET was a bit of a surprise to many, myself included.
It seems as if most European languages face “digital extinction” in the years to come. And that does not only include languages like Latvian, Lithuanian or Maltese but also German, Dutch, French, Italian and Spanish!
The study compared 30 different European languages and how well they are supported online in the fields of machine translation, speech processing, text analysis and speech & text resources. No surprise, English is the only one with good support in all categories though it still not got rated with excellent support.
So why are all of the other 29 European languages in danger of disappearing from the Internet? Modern technology like Apple’s Siri, Google Translate, online spell and grammar checkers as well as navigation systems rely on databases with previously translated words and phrases for their automatic translation. The fewer content there is available, the higher the risk of digital extinction.
If there aren’t enough resources available, modern technologies that rely on the data mentioned above won’t be able to support those “smaller” languages, leading to their disappearance from the world wide web.
So what can be done against this? On the one hand, more content, text and audio, needs to be created in those languages. An interesting approach heading for this is Duolingo, a startup that offers free self-directed language courses by letting the users crowdsource translations of texts from websites and other online sources. Currently, Duolingo is only available in Spanish, French and German but after its recent $15 million funding round I am sure that other languages will soon follow suit.
via NBC News