Languages are more interwoven with culture than almost anything else. Languages are an important part of the world's knowledge. Losing the language is very often described as losing the identity of a culture. WikiLang is a project to document and share the knowledge about those languages as well as teaching them.
Here you can find a list of articles that reported on the loss or shift of language diversity. It shall show that it is a topic that is broadly discussed and severe. You are highly welcomed to contribute and add links to articles.
The main goal of WikiLang is to document all languages of the world. WikiLang is organised around "language communities". Each language community having their own "section" on WikiLang and developing it in the way they desire, WikiLang has no rigid standard for structure. The most important thing is to have the project useful for the language community itself and to be appropriate to share and teach the concerned language. Those language communities coordinate the efforts of the community in that language throughout the Wikimedia sphere. The portal pages of the language communities on WikiLang serve as a central place (directory and guide) to the resources in that language even if they are located on an other sister projects like Wiktionary, Wikipedia, Wikiversity, Wikibooks, etc.
The lack of a central place in the current situation on Wikimedia projects makes it hard for language communities to find all the existing resources in their language or about their language. WikiLang is not only useful for the language communities but also for everybody who is interested in learning about a language or learning the language itself.
The main purpose of WikiLang is language documentation. All languages are welcome no matter their size or their status, including dead and sign languages. The purpose of WikiLang is to document and teach all languages and it also can act as a central point for language communities to coordinate their efforts and contribute on Wikimedia projects, including contributions to other sister projects, the goal being to not divide small language communities in different projects.
Resources to develop useful documentation and teaching material for bigger languages are easily available. For small and dead languages there are already grammars or dictionaries that could be used to build detailed grammars and lexicons on WikiLang and the language communities play an essential role in developing the material. Both a grammar and an adequately big dictionary are the essential parts of language documentation. WikiLang will also serve as a database where the ultimate goal is to have enough pieces of information of all languages to make studies with it or to learn/revitalise it to a later time. Wikidata can be used to store some of the data on the languages.
The hitherto existing wiki projects wouldn't fulfill these aims as Wiktionary is not designed to cover and preserve the lexicon of dead or endangered languages because it is more intended as an interlinguistical translation project; and the other wiki projects are not meant to create and compile a growing grammar of a language. To document a language it is beneficial to have both combined lexicon and grammar and to not divide this up onto different wiki projects. That wouldn't be the meaning of "database". One important aspect of WikiLang is the ability for the small language communities to write in the language of their choice, making the project more useful to their respective communities. For example documentation and teaching material of a native language of Central America will be written in Spanish as it is the majority language there. After that it can be translated by other contributors into other languages to make it available to a larger audience.
"Many linguists predict that at least half of the world's 6,000 or so languages will be dead or dying by the year 2050. Languages are becoming extinct at twice the rate of endangered mammals and four times the rate of endangered birds. If this trend continues, the world of the future could be dominated by a dozen or fewer languages."
WikiLang, or any other Wikimedia project, cannot take the responsibility to save or revitalise dying languages; this is the sole responsibility of the community of speakers themselves. However a project like WikiLang could be very useful to them and is an honorable cause to support. Since each language communities develop their section on WikiLang as they desire, contributors can make the project more useful for themselves. Pages within a language community of WikiLang can include words lists, languages courses and other didactic material that can help to revitalise languages and be re-used by the communities of speakers. If books, dictionaries or complete courses are developed within a language community of WikiLang, those will be moved to their respective sister project, i.e. Wikibooks, Wiktionary or Wikiversity. The point being that those communities are too small in most cases to develop any content of value directly on those projects and also that there is no existing projects in their own language and the task to create a new project is impossible to undertake for most small language communities.
WikiLang contributors can work out ways to normalise a language in its origin area when it is not the majority language anymore, build up new communities of speakers, work on campaigns or strategies to bring back a language into a certain community or as a subject in schools in that region and work out law texts or translate official documents (see "Little Projects"), etc. Discussion pages within a language community of WikiLang can be a very useful forum for the communities of speakers.
To reverse language shift sprachausbau or language development is one of the most important steps. The main step of this is to build a lexicon that covers all domains and registers of a modern vocabulary. Many languages don't even have words for a "refrigerator" or a "computer". In linguistics, it is generally accepted that every language has in theory the possibility to express everything that all the other languages do, if it had words for all of it. Another big step is to find a standard variety. That simplifies the handling of it at institutions, in schools, etc. Teaching is easier if everything is based upon a standard. For building a standard many aspects are very important: determining a standard orthography, choosing a variety as standard or creating a new variety as a mix of existing varieties, etc. In order to get wide acceptance of the new standard it is very important to cover as many opinions as possible and to include the whole language community. This is why a free and online platform like this project would be perfect for it. Discussion pages on WikiLang can be used for sprachausbau, or sprachausbau can occur outside within the communities of speakers and the results be documented and shared on WikiLang.
A little bit on the same model as the Oracle on Wikipedias living dictionaries on WikiLang are a place where readers and learners can ask questions and get answers from others. A lot of languages don't have existing dictionaries on paper and even less have dictionaries online. A living dictionary is a place where native speakers can help others by giving words in the language that are not present in online dictionaries. After that the words can be documented on the appropriate page on WikiLang and on Wiktionaries.
A lot of different little projects can take place within a language community of WikiLang. The efforts of the community could be coordinated for those projects. Examples of little projects include self written stories, translations of books or official documents and laws or learning materials (as long as it is feasible under a free license). After little projects are completed the resulting products could be moved to the relevant sister project if that's the case, for example Wikisource or Wikibooks, or stay on WikiLang if it doesn't fit anywhere. No matter what, the language community portal on WikiLang would be the central point to find all of them no matter on what sister project (or even outside project) the resources are actually hosted.
- WikiLang/Main Page — an incomplete but usable project developed only to show how WikiLang would/could look like
How does WikiLang fit WMF's mission?Edit
Languages are part of the world knowledge themselves. At WikiLang we are not saying that every small languages should have a Wikipedia (we are not saying they shouldn't either) especially if there is no monolingual speakers, since those speakers can have access to the information on bigger Wikipedias. However we do believe that languages are part of the world knowledge themselves and this is how it fits WMF's mission to freely share this knowledge; languages are as much if not more part of the world's knowledge than news and quotes, and both of them have their own project in Wikinews and Wikiquote. WikiLang is more to share knowledge about the languages, than to share knowledge in the small languages. Other projects like Wikipedia are ineffective in sharing the knowledge about languages (see below for more information about why WikiLang cannot be included in other sister projects). WikiLang also serves as a central location to find all the available resources in a given language, making existing information on Wikimedia projects more accessible and hence more useful.
Why should it be a wiki project?Edit
A wiki-project is the perfect way to afford the aims mentioned above. In the case of language revitalisation the mass is an important factor. The internet links together people from all over the world and is an easy way to interact almost barrier-freely. And for such aims as sprachausbau it is very important to find a consensus in things like a new orthography or new words. Those would be better adopted if they are based on a broad consensus. Many language communities of endangered languages do not have the knowledge to create such an internet project or to revitalise their language. And this is why this project is so important, to help those communities and make it so much easier for them to build up projects. And in the case of projects like the decipherment of old languages or scripts the wisdom doesn't lie in the élite but in the general public. This project would try to provide all the available information as pictures or sketches of inscriptions, particular letters or corpora of dead languages that are mostly not accessible for the public. By that manner those projects would lead much faster to success than in general.
Why isn't it solvable with the other sister projects?Edit
Updated version of 24/09/2014
WikiLang would work together with all the other sister projects. The language communities are coordinating their efforts to develop educational resources and documentation on WikiLang will move them on the appropriate sister project when it is the case, including but not limited to Wikipedia, Wikibooks, Wiktionary and Wikiversity. The point here is that the community in small languages is too small to be divided to effectively work directly on several different projects. Language portals on WikiLang will also serve as a central directory and guide for all the available resources in a language and about a language to make it easily findable and useful for the language communities.
WikiLang cannot be part of an existing sister project for the following reasons:
- Small communities. WikiLang is dealing with small languages. Most of them don't have an existing Wikipedia and setting up a project in the incubator requires knowledge that most of those communities are lacking. Also a wiki project in the incubator in the goal of creating a new language version of a sister project isn't exactly what the language communities require to revitalise and document their languages. By writing about world language on Wikipedia in a language doesn't revitalise or document it. Linguistical language documentation looks far more different and is way more than only texts. It would have hardly any effect of documentation if a language spoken by then people would open a new Wikipedi Incubator in order to pursue language documentation or revitalisation. Not only would it misuse the Wikipedia platform for that but also wouldn't it be successful. It is a lot more effort to set up an Incubator than opening a new portal on WikiLang. And the majority of the languages we are speaking here of that has to be documented and/or rescued are so small that they would not be big enough to be worth a Wikipedia Incubator. But it only needs at least one person to create documentation material on WikiLang. WikiLang offers a place for small communities to focus and organise what they need for themselves.
- Language skills: Not only speaks the above against an implementation in Wikipedia or elsewhere but also is it that big parts of documentation resources are made and in possession of linguists that doesn't even know how to speak the language but can offer a lot of information on its pronunciation, grammar and vocabulary. Especially when we handle with dead and extinct languages, how should they build an Incubator?
- Centralisation: The big benefit of WikiLang is the centralisation of language projects. One can much easier overlook all of it and participate much simpler than look through all the sister projects and other wiki derivatives that exist out there to find something that is related to a particular language and for revitalisation or documentation. That would also improve its use for scientific and research usage. It also gives the contributors a central place to coordinate their efforts in and about a particular language.
- Wikipedia: While Wikipedia is great, it is not what the smaller languages need to document and revitalise their languages. In a lot of cases it is more useful to teach and explain the language in another language (i. e. a majority language of the area where the small language is spoken), but Wikipedias have to be written in their own language. Wikipedia has some articles on grammar and phonology but they don't get into detail as much as it would be needed to document a language and can't "explain" it in a way to teach the language, i.e. Wikipedia is talking about the language, it is not teaching it. The grammar articles would be tremendous and too detailed for Wikipedia. That being said what's appropriate in the grammar and similar sections of a language in WikiLang can be re-used on Wikipedia articles about that language.
- Wiktionary/OmegaWiki. Wiktionary is not ideal to lead discussion on new words and sprachausbau or to come up with a standard variety and standard grammar etc. It is only to document words in any language and explain them in different languages. On WikiLang in order to document a language we would only create word lists with translations/definitions in the appropriate majority language. Creating word articles on Wiktionary would be too much effort for this undertaking. Nobody would want to spend so much time on an article just to document a word. A speaker of an endangered language or a linguist wants to use as less as possible of its own resources to create a documenting word list. Wiktionary is not suitable for the demands on documenting vocabulary on WikiLang. Furthermore, Wiktionary is only available for bigger languages. The little languages have too little participants to set up a whole new Wiktionary in their language, but enough people to build vocabulary lists on WikiLang. However, relevent information developed on WikiLang could be re-used by bigger language Wiktionaries as they see fit.
- Wikibooks. There is some evident overlap between WikiLang and Wikibooks. However the aims of WikiLang mentioned above makes Wikibooks unsuitable since WikiLang is far more than writing educational books like on Wikibooks. If complete educational books or a series of articles are developed on WikiLang, those will be moved to Wikibooks and linked from the language portal on WikiLang. Other projects on WikiLang are not suitable for Wikibooks, including sprachausbau, living dictionaries, revitalisation projects, etc. And furthermore is the creation of educational material only a small part of the aim of WikiLang.
- All others. It is unrealistic for small language communities to achieve the goals of WikiLang to be divided into 10 parts and be included on other sister projects. First of all this is detrimental to the efforts of the communities since there is no central place to coordinate the efforts and also no central place to access the existing documentation between the projects. A unique place for discussions within the language communities is essential for some projects such as sprachausbau and languages standardisation.
- Original research. As mentioned below, WikiLang allows original research which is against most of the wiki policies like Wikipedia. Hence, it wouldn't even work on those sites. This is one of the many reasons WikiLang is a much needed project.
- The apparent need: A big factor in this whole discussion is that there is an evident big need for this project. Most people would be in favour, almost every linguist would and we can't think of institutions and organisations dedicated to preserve dying languages that wouldn't see in this platform probably the only possibility to push language documentation and revitalisation to another level. The question of the need of WikiLang has of course to be asked, but it seems to be rather formal and obligatory than really a well-founded contradiction. Languages are dying and the internet hasn't brought up a good and free possibility to document them.
All in all the outsourcing of WikiLang to other sister projects would only misuse their resources because it doesn't really fit to any of them. The need for a language documentation is already explained on the discussion page, languages are dying out unbelievably fast and WikiLang would offer a perfect tool to document those languages if it is a real project. Many linguists agree that the use of the internet, specifically free collaboration such as on MediaWiki sites, is the key to endangered languages preservation in today's world. There are a lot of linguists, organisations, societies, activists etc. that would love to take part in WikiLang. The long participant list above already shows a sample of the big urge to participate.
Does WikiLang allow original research?Edit
Language documentation on WikiLang will be based on sources. However original research will be permitted and allowed if it is the wishes of the language community. Allowing original research is necessary for projects such as creating new words or forming new standards.
Original research must be an important part of any project to rescue and revitalise endangered languages. For example, it is necessary to discover the target language's phonology, and to determine which of its sounds (phones) together comprise "the same sound" (phoneme) in its speakers' minds, before it is possible to devise a suitable new orthography (writing and spelling system) for that language.
Wikipedia has a policy of "No original research". However, that policy does not necessarily apply to any other Wikimedia project. It is up to each project to determine its own policies in regard to original research, and there are wikis that support research as one of their chief aims.
Other Wikimedia projects allow original research, like Wikiversity in a specific namespace.
What does it mean for Wikimedia?Edit
First of all this is a very honorable campaign. It would increase the prestige of Wikimedia in the public. Furthermore it would earn a high reputation if some of the projects result in real success like the decipherment of a script or the noteworthy documentation/revitalisation of an endangered language.
How would it be organised?Edit
WikiLang will be structured around language communities. Each language will have its own language main page/portal. This portal can be in the language itself, in the local majority language of the specific language or even be multilingual. Each language community is independant and develop this portal according to their needs and the available resources. WikiLang has no rigid structure about the way the language communities should be organised. They should organise in the way that best fits their needs and intents.
Language communities will include projects such as living dictionaries, proposals for new words, audio recordings of words, development of teaching material, etc. This is an example for a page for a dictionary with new words we are trying to build on the Gothic Wikipedia: Gothic dictionary It is divided into a discussion page, where new proposals for words can be posted and discussed and if it is widely accepted the words get added to the word list on another page.
Invitations and recommendations of institutes, organisations and relevant personsEdit
An e-mail of invitation and aware-making has been sent to the following institutes and organisations. Please, feel free to write it to other entities as well and spread the word.
(If you are from an institute or organisation or are a relevant person/linguist and want to post your encouragement or positive ideas on this project you can do so by writing it under your name in the list or add your name and comment. Thank you a lot.)
- Endangered Languages Documentation Programme: They are very happy to hear about such a project and would like to spread the word but, however, they have to stay neutral for they are a funding agency and cannot endorse one project over another.
- Indigenous Language Institute
- Endangered Languages Archive
- Internet library for 'Aboriginal Languages of Australia'
- Alaska Native Language Center (ANLC)
- Netherlands Center for Indigenous Peoples (NCIV)
- E-MELD (Electronic Metastructure for Endangered Languages)
- The Linguist List
- The Endangered Language Project
- University of Hawai'i Mānoa, Department of linguistics
- Endangered Language Alliance
- Living Tongues, Institute for Endangered Languages
- Endangered Languages Project
- Lacito, Langues et civilisations à tradition orale
- First People's Cultural Council
- First Voices
- University of Cambridge (World Oral Literature Project)
- Paradisec (Pacific and Regional Archive for Digital Sources in Endangered Languages)
- SIL International
- I couldn't find any contact address for: DoBeS