Creating a Global Language Archive
For most of us, the language we speak is like the air we breathe. But what happens when we wake up and find that our air is going extinct?
According to Oregon’s Living Tongues Institute, one of the world’s languages dies every 14 days. By the next century nearly half of the roughly 7,000 languages spoken on Earth will disappear, as young people abandon native tongues in favor of English, Mandarin, or Spanish.
Researchers estimate that over the last 500 years, half of the world’s languages, from Etruscan to Tasmanian, have vanished. So what do we lose when a language goes silent?
When you mess with a person’s language, you mess with their heritage, their culture, and their affinity with their ancestors. Changing language somehow invalidates all of the work of the past, disgracing the culture of their forefathers.
For this reason I would like to propose the creation of a Global Language Archive, similar, in some respects, to the Svalbard Global Seed Vault in Norway which has archived 1.5 million distinct seed samples of agricultural crops from around the world.
Different than some of the online efforts to archive languages that tend to lose much of the dimensionality of culture, I’d like you to think of the Global Language Archive as the “Louvre of Languages” where culture and language collide in a way that all can experience. Let me explain.
Language as a Source of Conflict
When the United States was founded, only 40 percent of the people living within its boundaries spoke English as their first language. Today that number is 87%.
Over the years, language has become a hotly debated issue, not only in the U.S., but also in countries around the world.
Most observers tend to explain today’s global political conflicts as stemming from racial, ethnic, religious, or territorial disputes. We rarely see language attributed as a direct and fundamental cause. But that’s not always true.
As an example, in 1989, Slobodan Milosevic ordered Albanians to speak Serbian. They refused. This became one of the primary causes of the war that followed.
When looking at past conflicts, it’s important to look at language as the source of tension: it is often more tangible than race or religion. For example, when you look at a person it can be very difficult to tell what race or ethnicity group they belong to. However, once they speak, much of the confusion disappears.
Over the coming years, the number of languages spoken around the world will decline sharply. At the same time, the more vulnerable a group feels about their language, the greater their devotion to keeping it. As one of the most important elements of a culture’s identity, language can also become incendiary. A group’s language can feel essential to its very existence.
Living Tongue’s map of endangered languages
From Bolivia to Malaysia, hundreds of languages around the world are teetering on the brink of extinction—some being spoken only by a single person, according to a new study.
Of the 50 native languages remaining in California, none are being actively taught to schoolchildren today.
With only 5% of the world still speaking 6,500 of today’s “long tail” languages, we are on the verge of losing a significant piece of humanity.
Currently, more than 500 languages are spoken by fewer than ten people.
The pace of life is quickening. As people’s lives become busier, they have less time to pay attention to things that were important to their ancestors. The new language wars will be an inter-generational battle between the younger generations and their parents and grandparents.
A few notable efforts are already underway.
- Living Tongues Institute for Endangered Languages has a mission to promote the documentation, maintenance, preservation, and revitalization of endangered languages worldwide through linguist-aided, community-driven multimedia language documentation projects. Through proactive efforts, the Institute arranges expeditions to find “last speakers” of endangered languages worldwide and archive pieces of their culture through books, stories, and videos for use by future generations.
- Talking Dictionary – Living Tongues Institute is also producing a series of Online Talking Dictionaries for a range of languages. Here are some examples.
- The Rosetta Project is a global collaboration of language specialists and native speakers working to develop a contemporary version of the historic Rosetta Stone for the next 10,000 years. This project is run by the Long Now Foundation. Their goal is create a broad online survey and near-permanent physical archive of 1,500 of the approximately 7,000 human languages.
- Multilingual Manchester – A University of Manchester archive set up in 2010 to document, protect and support the languages spoken in one of Europe’s most diverse cities, is now the world’s largest. The web-based Multilingual Manchester documents the city’s diverse linguistic tradition of over 100 languages.
The Global Language Archive – The “Louvre of Languages”
Creating a physical place that represents a focal point for language preservation brings with it tremendous opportunity. Unlike today’s cultural museums that capture physical fragments of history, the Global Language Archive will have a mission to preserve the communications, stories, and dreams of our ancestors.
Online efforts only go so far. By adding physical dimensions, human contact, audio stories, and peripheral experiences, we breathe life into these otherwise single-dimensional languages.
As “last speakers” begin to dwindle, the final-person-responsibility brings with it tremendous stress and anxiety. The loss of a language means the loss of birthright, heritage, and customs. It somehow breaks the connection with their ancestors and invalidates all of the accomplishments of the past, dishonoring the culture of their families.
But much of this stress can be diffused by taking these speakers through a formal preservation process that transforms them from “crazy person clinging to the past” to “cultural expert with a deep understanding of their ancestors.”
Curators of languages are different than curators of artifacts. Languages are tools of expression with deep emotional ties. Done correctly, the Global Language Archive will attract massive crowds from around the world. It will be a one-of-a-kind facility serving as a Mecca for linguistic scientists and cultural researchers around the globe.
In this context, language itself becomes a cultural taxonomy, and with upwards of 7,000 languages left to preserve, it has the potential for becoming the largest museum in the world with associated universities, hotels, culture-inspired retail centers, and much more.
Ironically, the creation of a Global Language Archive will speed the reduction of spoken languages. Once the onus of responsibility has been removed from last speakers to keep their culture alive, they will be more likely to let their children decide their own career path.
Having fewer languages creates societal efficiencies on many levels – less confusion, reduced standards, and fewer decision points within most business structures.
From a nation-to-nation relationship standpoint, it will be a great diffuser of cultural tensions.
With English becoming the de facto international language standard of science, technology, and the Internet, it will be in the best interest of English-speaking countries to fund the Global Language Archive in a big way. For them it will create an unprecedented competitive advantage for business and industry.
My goal in writing this was to help readers understand how this looming language crisis could be transitioned into a significant opportunity. But I tend to look at the world through an overly optimistic lens, so I’d love to hear your thoughts.
Creating a Global Language Archive
I was thoroughly intrigued when I found out the Colorado School of Mines in Golden, Colorado was offering a degree in asteroid mining.
Yes, the idea of extracting water, oxygen, minerals, and metals from an asteroid sounds like science fiction to most people, but it’s not that far away. In fact, Colorado School of Mines’ newly launched “Space Resources” program will help people get in on the ground floor.
After thinking about the proactive nature of this approach, it became abundantly clear how backward thinking most colleges have become.
When colleges decide on a new degree program, they must first recruit instructors, create a new curriculum, and attract students. As a result, the talent churned out of these newly minted programs is the product of a 6-7 year pipeline.
For this reason, anticipatory-thinking institutions really need to be setting their sights on what business and industries will need 7-10 years from now.
The Risk-Averse Nature of Education
When Harvard professor Clayton M. Christensen released his best-selling book, The Innovator’s Dilemma, his core message that disruptive change is the path to success, was only partially embraced by higher education.
While many were experimenting with MOOCs and smart whiteboards, changes in the subject matter of their courses still evolved at the traditional pace of discovery.
This is not to say colleges are not innovative. Rather, the demands of today’s emerging tech environment are forcing business and industries to shift into an entirely new gear. And that most definitely includes our academic institutions.
From a management perspective, it’s far easier to oversee a contained system where all variables are constrained. But during times of change, we tend to give far more power to the “unleashers,” who are determined to test the status quo and release ideas and trial balloons to see what works.
For this reason, managers and creatives often find themselves on opposing sides, and the winners of these warring factions often determine what we as consumers see as the resulting ripples of change.
Offering Pilot Programs
When Facebook bought Oculus Rift in March 2014 for $2 billion, the job boards went crazy, as there was an instant uptick in the demand for VR designers, engineers, and experience creators. But no one was teaching VR, and certainly not the Oculus Rift version of it.
Colleges have a long history of being blindsided by new technologies:
- When eBay launched, no one was teaching ecommerce strategies
- When Myspace launched, no one was teaching social networking
- When Google launched, no one was teaching online search engine strategies
- When Uber launched, no one was teaching sharing economy business models
- When Apple first opened their App Store, no one was teaching smart phone app design
- When Amazon first allowed online storefronts, no one was teaching the Amazon business model
- When YouTube first offered ways to monetize videos, no one was teaching it
Since most academic institutions are only willing to put their name on programs with long-term viability, the endorsement of half-baked agendas does not come easy. However, that is exactly what needs to be done.
Colleges can no longer afford to remain comfortably behind the curve.
52 Future College Degrees
As a way of priming your thinking on this matter, here are 52 future degrees that forward-thinking colleges could start offering today:
- Space Exploration – space tourism planning and management
- Space Exploration – planetary colony design and operation
- Space Exploration – next generation space infrastructure
- Space Exploration – advanced cosmology and non-earth human habitats
- Bioengineering with CRISPR – policy and procedural strategies
- Bioengineering with CRISPR – advanced genetic engineering systems
- Bioengineering with CRISPR – operational implementations and system engineering
- Bioengineering with CRISPR – ethical regulation and oversight
- Smart City – autonomous traffic integration
- Smart City – mixed reality modeling
- Smart City – autonomous construction integration
- Smart City – next generation municipal planning and strategy
- Autonomous Agriculture – robotic systems
- Autonomous Agriculture – drone systems
- Autonomous Agriculture – supply chain management
- Autonomous Agriculture – systems theory and integration
- Swarmbot – design, theory, and management
- Swarmbot – system engineering and oversight
- Swarmbot – municipal system design
- Swarmbot – law enforcement and advanced criminology systems
- Cryptocurrency – digital coin economics
- Cryptocurrency – crypto-banking system design
- Cryptocurrency – regulatory systems and oversight
- Cryptocurrency – forensic accounting strategies
- Blockchain – design, systems, and applications
- Blockchain – blockchain for biological systems
- Blockchain – large-scale integration structures
- Blockchain – municipal system design strategies
- Global Systems – system planning, architecture, and design
- Global Systems – large-scale integration strategies
- Global Systems – operational systems checks and balance
- Global Systems – governmental systems in a borderless digital world
- Unmanned Aerial Vehicle - drone film making
- Unmanned Aerial Vehicle – command center operations
- Unmanned Aerial Vehicle – municipal modeling and planning systems
- Unmanned Aerial Vehicle – emergency response systems
- Mixed Reality - experiential retail
- Mixed Reality – three-dimensional storytelling
- Mixed Reality – game design
- Mixed Reality – therapeutic systems and design
- Advanced Reproductive Systems – designer baby strategies, planning, and ethics
- Advanced Reproductive Systems – surrogate parenting policy and approaches
- Advanced Reproductive Systems – organic nano structures
- Advanced Reproductive Systems – clone engineering and advanced processes
- Artificial Intelligence – data management in an AI environment
- Artificial Intelligence – advanced human-AI integration
- Artificial Intelligence – streaming AI data services
- Artificial Intelligence – advanced marketing with AI
- Quantum Computing – data strategies in a quantum-connected world
- Quantum Computing – quantum-level encryption and security
- Quantum Computing – quantum computing implementation strategies
- Quantum Computing – AI-quantum system integration
More so than any time in history, we have a clear view of next generation technologies. Naturally, we’re still a long way from 100% clarity, but for most of the technologies listed above, the shifting tectonic plates of change can be felt around the world.
Without taking decisive action, colleges run the risk of being circumvented by new types of training systems that can meet market demands in a fraction of the time it takes traditional academia to react.
The ideas I’ve listed are a tiny fraction of what’s possible when it comes to emerging tech degrees. Should colleges stick their neck out like Colorado School of Mines and offer degrees that may not be immediately useful? Adding to that question, how many college degrees are immediately useful today?
I’d love to hear your thoughts on this topic.