Photograph by Chris Rainier
Indigenous communities around the globe are using technology to help maintain and revitalize their threatened languages and cultures. Thousands of tribal communities, from East Africa to the outback of Australia to the forests of the Northwest Pacific Coast, are creating educational programs to record the stories and oral traditions of their elderly last speakers. Using cameras, film, and audio, community members are creating powerful archives of material, as well as books and dictionaries. Passing the knowledge along to the younger generation has become of paramount importance and urgency.
The Enduring Voices Project, where invited, will assist indigenous communities in their efforts to revitalize and maintain their threatened languages. By using appropriate written materials, video, still photography, audio recorders, and computers with customized language software, as well as Internet-accessible archiving where possible, the Enduring Voices Project is helping empower communities to preserve ancient traditions with modern technology.
Language Technology Kits have been given to a dozen communities, along with follow-up training and capacity building.
In 2010, we conducted our first Language Revitalization Workshop in Santa Fe, New Mexico. We also posted photos from many of the participants digital stories and books. Sante Fe Final Report (PDF)
In December 2011, we conducted a Language Revitalization Workshop in Shillong, Meghalaya, India, that brought together eight young linguists and language activists from across Northeast India. See photos from the workshop and download the full report (PDF).
Stories From the Expeditions
Experience the vibrant cultural expressions of some of the world's rarest languages in this collection of photos, videos, and more from the 2013 Smithsonian Folklife Festival, which brought together people from traditional cultures in every region of the globe.
By the next century nearly half of the roughly 7,000 languages spoken on Earth will likely disappear, as communities abandon native tongues in favor of English, Mandarin, or Spanish. What is lost when a language goes silent?
The Enduring Voices team reports back on the Xyzyl (pronounced “hizzle”) language from the Republic of Xakasia northwest of Mongolia. They will be working with the Xyzyl people to create a talking dictionary and grammar to help them preserve their ancient tongue.
Read the full report from the Enduring Voices team's 2011 expedition to Arunachal Pradesh, India, where they visited five endangered language communities.
Meet the Team
Dr. Gregory D. S. Anderson is a linguist who is director of the Living Tongues Institute for Endangered Languages, a nonprofit organization dedicated to the documentation, revitalization, and maintenance of endangered languages.
K. David Harrison is a linguist and leading specialist in the study of endangered languages. He co-leads the Enduring Voices project at National Geographic and is an associate professor at Swarthmore College.
Chris Rainier is considered one of the leading documentary photographers working today. His life's mission is to put on film both the remaining natural wilderness and indigenous cultures around the globe and to use images to create social change.
The Enduring Voices Project represents a partnership between National Geographic Mission Programs and the Living Tongues Institute for Endangered Languages.
Support the Enduring Voices Project on Facebook.
View the Enduring Voices Project ethics statement.
The Last Speakers
The poignant chronicle of K. David Harrison’s expeditions around the world to meet with last speakers of vanishing languages.