We’re living amid a renaissance of linguistic and cultural diversity. From the revival of minority languages in Europe to the resurrection of indigenous American cuisine, people around the world are pushing back against centuries of forced assimilation and reclaiming their cultural sovereignty. For the first time, our global community is breathing.
At the turn of the twenty-first century, as many as half of all languages were in danger of disappearing, a canary in the coal mine of humanity. Whether in Canada, where Native children were sent to boarding schools and punished for speaking their mother tongues, or the United Kingdom, where schoolchildren were flogged for speaking Welsh, cultures around the world were stolen. Our languages were beaten out of us.
But the tide is turning. Thanks to a groundswell of activism, national governments are rolling back policies of forced assimilation. In 2003, Mexico repealed a constitutional ban on the use of indigenous languages in public schools. In 2014, the U.S. state of Alaska made all native languages co-official with English. Across Europe and elsewhere, in Ghana and Vanuatu, minority languages are being incorporated into public school curriculums. And where governments fail to act, people are taking matters into their own hands.
Perhaps the greatest misconception about cultural diversity is that the Internet has had a ruinous effect, swallowing up smaller cultures in a torrent of English, Spanish, and other mass media languages. However, the Internet has equipped people with the possibility of sustaining their mother tongues. The ability to create and share media makes it possible to promote your language without external support. Social media is a powerful tool for using your language on a daily basis, even if you can’t expect to use it at restaurants, shops, or government institutions.
In fact, whether it’s the Nawat language of El Salvador, the Cornish language of England, the Normand language of France, or the Tai Nüa language of Southeast Asia, mother tongues once marginalized are being revived on Facebook, Twitter, and other platforms, through the use of memes, private groups, and smartphone-recorded videos. Around the world, people from hundreds of cultures are finding ways to amplify their voices, defying the assumption that globalization can’t be inclusive.
However, access to methods of language reclamation remain unequal. While some communities have the privilege of working with trained linguists, others speak languages that remain understudied. While some people are deft at promoting their languages online, others struggle with social media. Some have robust Internet, but others are blocked by poor connectivity.
Wikitongues exists to bridge these gaps. We’re the front door to a wider process, a network of language champions from more than seventy countries. Saving a language takes a lifetime, and we’re here to ensure that all people have access to their cultural sovereignty. We invite you to join us. Volunteer, donate, or follow along with our work: we’re on Youtube, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. We also publish on Medium.
In more than 7,000 languages, thank you.