The Endangered Languages Project: Supporting language preservation through technology and collaboration

The Miami-Illinois language was considered by some to be extinct. Once spoken by Native American communities throughout what’s now the American Midwest, its last fluent speakers died in the 1960s. Decades later, Daryl Baldwin, a citizen of the Miami Tribe of Oklahoma, began teaching himself the language from historical manuscripts and now works with the Miami University in Ohio to continue the work of revitalizing the language, publishing stories, audio files and other educational materials. Miami children are once again learning the language and—even more inspiring—teaching it to each other.

Daryl’s work is just one example of the efforts being made to preserve and strengthen languages that are on the brink of disappearing. Today we’re introducing something we hope will help: the Endangered Languages Project, a website for people to find and share the most up-to-date and comprehensive information about endangered languages. Documenting the 3,000+ languages that are on the verge of extinction (about half of all languages in the world) is an important step in preserving cultural diversity, honoring the knowledge of our elders and empowering our youth. Technology can strengthen these efforts by helping people create high-quality recordings of their elders (often the last speakers of a language), connecting diaspora communities through social media and facilitating language learning.

The Endangered Languages Project, backed by a new coalition, the Alliance for Linguistic Diversity, gives those interested in preserving languages a place to store and access research, share advice and build collaborations. People can share their knowledge and research directly through the site and help keep the content up-to-date. A diverse group of collaborators have already begun to contribute content ranging from 18th-century manuscripts to modern teaching tools like video and audio language samples and knowledge-sharing articles. Members of the Advisory Committee have also provided guidance, helping shape the site and ensure that it addresses the interests and needs of language communities.

Google has played a role in the development and launch of this project, but the long-term goal is for true experts in the field of language preservation to take the lead. As such, in a few months we’ll officially be handing over the reins to the First Peoples' Cultural Council (FPCC) and The Institute for Language Information and Technology (The LINGUIST List) at Eastern Michigan University. FPCC will take on the role of Advisory Committee Chair, leading outreach and strategy for the project. The LINGUIST List will become the Technical Lead. Both organizations will work in coordination with the Advisory Committee.

As part of this project, research about the world’s most threatened languages is being shared by the Catalogue of Endangered Languages (ELCat), led by teams at the University of Hawai’i at Manoa and Eastern Michigan University, with funding provided by the National Science Foundation. Work on ELCat has only just begun, and we’re sharing it through our site so that feedback from language communities and scholars can be incorporated to update our knowledge about the world’s most at-risk languages.

Building upon other efforts to preserve and promote culture online, has seeded this project’s development. We invite interested organizations to join the effort. By bridging independent efforts from around the world we hope to make an important advancement in confronting language endangerment. This project’s future will be decided by those inspired to join this collaborative effort for language preservation. We hope you’ll join us.

Giving back in 2011

As the holiday season approaches we thought it was a good moment to update you on some grants we're making to support education, technology and the fight against modern day slavery.

STEM and girls’ education
Science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) open up great opportunities for young people so we've decided to fund 16 great programs in this area. These include Boston-based Citizen Schools and Generating Genius in the U.K., both of which work to help to expand the horizons of underprivileged youngsters. In total, our grants will provide enhanced STEM education for more than 3 million students.

In addition, we're supporting girls’ education in the developing world. By giving a girl an education, you not only improve her opportunities, but those of her whole family. The African Leadership Academy provides merit scholarships to promising young women across the continent, and the Afghan Institute of Learning offers literacy classes to women and girls in rural Afghanistan. Groups like these will use our funds to educate more than 10,000 girls in developing countries.

Empowerment through technology
We've all been wowed by the entrepreneurial spirit behind the 15 awards in this category, all of whom are using the web, open source programming and other technology platforms to connect communities and improve access to information. Vittana, for instance, helps lenders offer loans to students in the developing world who have have a 99 percent repayment rate—potentially doubling or tripling a recipient's earning power. Code for America enables the web industry to share its skills with the public sector by developing projects that improve transparency and encourage civic engagement on a mass scale. And Switchboard is working with local mobile providers to help African health care workers create networks and communicate for free.

Fighting slavery and human trafficking
Modern day slavery is a multi-billion dollar industry that ruins the lives of around 27 million people. So we're funding a number of groups that are working to tackle the problem. For instance, in India, International Justice Mission (IJM), along with The BBC World Service Trust, Action Aid and Aide et Action, are forming a new coalition. It will work on the ground with governments to stop slave labor by identifying the ring masters, documenting abuse, freeing individuals and providing them with therapy as well as job training. Our support will also help expand the reach of tools like the powerful Slavery Footprint calculator and Polaris Project’s National Trafficking Hotline.

To learn more about these organizations and how you can get involved, visit our Google Gives Back 2011 site and take a look at this video:

These grants, which total $40 million, are only part of our annual philanthropic efforts. Over the course of the year, Google provided more than $115 million in funding to various nonprofit organizations and academic institutions around the world; our in-kind support (programs like Google Grants and Google Apps for Education that offer free products and services to eligible organizations) came to more than $1 billion, and our annual company-wide GoogleServe event and related programs enabled individual Googlers to donate more than 40,000 hours of their own volunteer time.

As 2011 draws to a close, I’m inspired by this year’s grantees and look forward to seeing their world-changing work in 2012.

Show your love for charities on Google+ this holiday season

We’ve been thrilled to see the ways nonprofit organizations use Google+ to raise awareness about their work, as well as the ways people connect with causes on Google+. In the past couple days, several entertainers have helped start a movement for this holiday season, drawing attention to their favorite charities on Google+ using the phrase #CauseILoveEm and creatively showing their followers what they love about these nonprofit organizations.
  • Co-founder +Hugh Jackman and +Laughing Man Coffee & Tea asked people to share photos of themselves with Laughing Man's fair trade products (the profits of which go to charity) and to sound off on living their motto, "All Be Happy," using #CauseILoveEm to be included in a thank you photo album.

  • +Find Your Light Foundation and +Josh Groban announced the Fulfill-a-Wish campaign, spotlighting the needs of nonprofit arts organizations from across North America in videos and posts, and asking for your help fulfilling these holiday wishes.
We hope you’ll join these folks and lots of others in the Google+ community who have already started sharing their favorite nonprofits this holiday season. Say which nonprofit you like and what you like about them in a public post using the phrase #CauseILoveEm and mentioning the nonprofit’s Google+ page by typing “+” and the nonprofit’s name. Be creative and post videos, images and stories that will convince others to love them too. Through the end of December on our +Google for Nonprofits page, we’ll re-share great examples of the ways people are recognizing their favorite nonprofits and highlight some nonprofits with which you might want to connect.

If the nonprofit you care about most isn’t yet on Google+, be sure to let them know about our Google+ for Nonprofit community page that they can use to get started and learn more. Thanks in advance for caring about these organizations and doing something small to help them grow and achieve their goals during the holiday season.