The world's languages are dying.

"When a language and its associated cultural beliefs and practices are no longer viewed positively by its speakers... and it is in competition with one which is, it is doomed."  (Foley, 1997)

Krauss (1992) estimates that 80 per cent of the world's languages may die within the next one hundred years. Indeed, 96 per cent of the world's languages are spoken by only four per cent of the world's population (Crystal, 2000). With the loss of these languages, a cultural voice is silenced. A community treasure, a shared heritage, an entire world view fades into oblivion.

Although it is not always possible to revivify a language, it is possible to create language documentation that will be of lasting benefit. For future generations who wonder what their grandparents' language sounded like, and for future scientists who investigate linguistic and ethnographic structures, we can create and archive language documentation in such a way that it remains accessible and intelligible into the next century.

Linguists and community members have created language documentation in many different formats. But all formats are not equal. Many commonly used formats are not designed to endure, for they are written in proprietary code, and require proprietary software to be read. When the proprietary software is made obsolete by technological change, the files become unreadable. Software for audio and video often compresses the files they save, throwing away information that is "invisible" or "inaudible" to human beings. This makes them useless for phonetic analysis. As Bird & Simons comment, "In the very generation when the rate of language death is at its peak, we have chosen to use moribund technologies, and to create endangered data." (Bird & Simons, 2003)

Endangered languages data recorded in such formats are seriously at risk, erasing the only remaining records of once vibrant and vital languages and cultures. They can only be preserved for posterity if they are converted to best practices formats, which are designed to endure.

More on best practices

E-MELD is dedicated to the preservation of endangered languages data. The School of Best Practices offers a collection of recommended practices, recommended readings, and exemplary case studies to ease the digitization process for linguists and community members.

When best practices are followed, the quality and endurance of digital languages data improves monumentally. When best practices are followed, a linguist's work finds a wider audience. When best practices are followed, the invaluable footprints of a dying language hold strong.

The E-MELD project, in collaboration with the Open Language Archives Community (OLAC) and other large language digitization projects like DOBES, has begun to draft Best Practice recommendations. Displayed on these pages are suggestions that have come out of the E-MELD summer workshops. We do not by any means consider them final. We present them here primarily to solicit your input.

More on OLAC

More on DOBES

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