[Foundation-l] What to do with moribund languages?

Ting Chen wing.philopp at gmx.de
Sun Jan 4 19:48:34 UTC 2009

Well, I remember I read some very interesting articles, mainly from 
ethnologists in Scientific American about language conservation. 
Personally I think that language conservation is something that is 
meaningful and should be done. But I have doubt if WikiMedia can or 
should host projects for this purpose.

In most cases these languages don't have their own writing system. And 
as you said, most people that are still speaking these language are old 
people and most likely less educated. They don't have the expertise to 
write down these languages and to systematically catalog and conserve 
these languages. So this work is mostly done by ethmologists that work 
on these projects. Personally I don't think that amateurs can really 
help here. Most likely would amateurs do more harm (just like the 
amateur archaeologists of the 19th centory, who indeed destroyed a lot). 
This is for the first thing.

As the word language conservation already implies. It is a matter of 
conserve. These languages can most likely be used to describe the near 
places and peoples where the languages are used, maybe folklores and 
myths and such things. You cannot use it to describe high energy physics 
or construction of microwavers or Taiwan conflict. So, I don't think 
that Wikipedia is a right place for such projects, nor any other 
projects we currently have.

If there are scientific institutions that want to talk with the 
Foundation about collaborations of language conservation projects I 
think it is worthwhile a consideration. But if it is only some amateurs 
who want to do it. I don't see any reason to treat such projects with 
another set of standards as we are now using.


Milos Rancic wrote:
> I realized that at Requests for new languages [1] we have a number of
> proposals for projects in moribund languages [2]. In brief, when
> roughly less than 1000 dominantly older persons speak one language,
> this language will be dead when those speakers die. Even some larger
> languages [than mentioned ones], like Lower Sorbian [3] is (with
> ~15.000 of speakers) are deeply endangered and it is almost
> predictable that this language won't be alive in the next century.
> But, cases like Lower Sorbian one is -- are border cases -- and I
> don't see a problem with creating such project inside of the standard
> procedure.
> However, we have some number of cases where project is requested for a
> language with less than 100 older speakers.
> My proposal is to do the next in the cases of moribund languages:
> * Reject proposal for project creation.
> * Suggesting them to put their language corpus at [multilingual] Wikisource.
> * Allowing them to work on Incubator if they really want to spend some
> efforts on language revival.
> * If a project at Incubator shows possibilities to be a live one, they
> may ask for project again, when they will have to pass all necessary
> steps (localization of MediaWiki and so on).
> This is a kind of a "political issue", so I prefer to see discussion
> here before discussion at Language subcommittee.
> [1] - http://meta.wikimedia.org/wiki/Requests_for_new_languages
> [2] - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Language_death
> [3] - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lower_Sorbian
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