Language is a key driver of human connection. And yet, every two weeks, a language goes extinct. It is estimated that if nothing is done, half of the 6,000+ languages spoken today will disappear at the end of the century. The loss of these languages – often unwritten and undocumented – will eliminate a trove of cultural wealth and ancestral knowledge of the human race.
That’s why today, we celebrate International Mother Language Day with our partner UNESCO. Microsoft, through its Local Language Program, which is part of Microsoft YouthSpark, works with UNESCO to preserve endangered languages and bring equitable representation and access of local languages in technology. Microsoft Language Interface Packs (LIPs) enables access for speakers of languages in emerging markets, like Wolof in Senegal, and Punjabi in Pakistan, which are widely spoken but hardly used in new technologies. LIPs also provide access for native speakers of endangered languages, like the 60,000 speakers of Maori in New Zealand.
Beyond technology, there is another important way to preserve language: engaging youth. Because young people easily assimilate to the most widely used language outside of the home, the loss of language begins with younger generations. But in cases like the Cherokee nation, engaging young people at an early age by teaching Cherokee in preschool, allowed America’s largest native population to save the almost-extinct language and bring its speaker base to 16,000.
The importance of including youth in language preservation is why Microsoft’s Local Language Program is a part of Microsoft YouthSpark, our company-wide initiative to empower 300 million young people in three years.
Click here to read more about how Microsoft, in partnership with UNESCO, is preserving local languages.