At the moment, there are somewhere around 6,500 or so languages spoken in the world. Most of these languages are spoken by very small numbers of people. In fact, 94% of the people in the world are speakers of just 5% of the world’s languages. The other 95% of the languages of the world are spoken by just 6% of the world’s population. (You can get all sorts of interesting statistics like this, and an overview of all the languages in the world at www.ethnologue.com) More and more, the people who speak these minority languages are starting to speak languages which have more economic significance: languages, which if their children speak them, will probably give them greater employment opportunities and the like. Of course, you can understand why people want the best for their kids, but while this happens, a terrible amount of the world’s cultural heritage is being lost.

In recent years, a number of funds have sprung up which support efforts to document some of these small languages before they disappear forever. Even if the languages have gone, the idea is that there will at least be a record of them for future generations to look back at. The major international funds supporting this work are the Endangered Languages Documentation Programme (which is a component of the Hans Rausing Endangered Languages Project www.hrelp.org), the VolkswagenStiftung DoBeS programme (www.mpi.nl/dobes) and the National Scince Foundation of America’s endangered languages programme (http://www.nsf.gov/news/special_reports/linguistics/endangered.jsp)

The Helong project is being supported by the Endangered Languages Documentation Programme, along with projects focussed on over a hundred small languages spoken right throughout the world. Over the course of the project, we hope to produce many hours of annotated video and audio recordings of Helong being spoken in all sorts of different contexts. This blog will grow as the project grows. Stay tuned…

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