Happy new year! The UN has declared 2019 as the Year of Indigenous Languages, and will kick it off tomorrow on February 1. It may seem like a small thing, but by one estimate an indigenous language disappears every 14 days. And entire language, gone every 2 weeks! When the world loses a language, not only do those who speak it lose their mother tongue, but all of us lose potentially vital local knowledge of how to combat environmental threats. We also lose another piece of the diversity that makes our earth rich and vibrant. Saving indigenous languages isn’t just a nice pet project, it’s one that can make a huge difference to all of us, no matter what language we speak. Our January changemaker, Dr. Gregory D. S. Anderson, has been working to save indigenous languages for over a decade.
Dr. Anderson founded Living Tongues, a nonprofit organization dedicated to the documentation, revitalization, and maintenance of endangered languages, in 2005. Through the partnership between Living Tongues and National Geographic’s Enduring Voices project, Anderson traveled to places like Central Siberia, Bolivia and even Northern California to study, collect, and save indigenous languages. With Dr. K. David Harrison, Anderson developed a new way of looking at languages, identifying “language hotspots” around the globe. These are areas urgently in need of action to save languages.
Through Living Tongues, he has created over 100 talking dictionaries, created digital skills workshops and language technology kits in over a dozen countries, and worked tirelessly to document languages on 5 continents. No matter the language we use to say it, we owe Dr. Anderson a huge “thank you” for his work to save indigenous languages and the important knowledge the represent.