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Last Updated: Wednesday, 24 March, 2004, 12:53 GMT
Rescue bid for languages
There are thousands of languages threatened with extinction
Languages threatened with extinction are being recorded and protected at a research centre being opened in London.

A 20m donation is funding an endangered languages research project at the School of Oriental and African Studies at the University of London.

It is claimed that out of the 6,500 languages spoken in the world about a half are under threat of extinction.

The research centre will build a digital archive of languages that could disappear.

The Hans Rausing Endangered Languages Project is claimed as the largest research centre of its type in the world.

Disappearing languages

Peter Austin, director of the Endangered Languages Academic Project, says that the scheme will preserve a record of many languages that are set to disappear in the next century.

"There are languages which might have thousands of speakers, but the communities are switching to another language - often a larger regional, national or international language.

"This is mainly because parents think that it's an advantage to their children, socially, economically or politically," he told BBC Radio 4's Today programme.

The centre will train researchers in recording and documenting threatened languages - so that there will be a way of hearing and understanding these lost languages in the future.

This will involve the setting up of a multimedia archive of languages.

Professor Austin said that it was not inevitable that threatened languages would disappear - as he said there was growing awareness of the cultural loss that accompanied the death of a language.

"There are communities around the world where they are realising that the loss of a language means the loss of their history, their culture, their identity," he said.

And he said that the increasing number of people who said that they could speak Welsh was a reflection of how the "tide is turning".

Digital race to save languages
20 Mar 03  |  Technology

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