Did you know that of the more than 6,000 languages spoken in the world, it is estimated that nearly half are in danger of extinction?
For example, according to a UNESCO report, no less than 26 languages are in danger of disappearing in France, including Languedoc, Picard and Provençal. On the African continent, home to 30% of the world’s languages, more than 200 languages are likely to disappear before the end of the century.
Language extinction is certainly not a new phenomenon: wars, invasions or natural disasters have wiped out several languages and civilizations throughout history. But for the last three centuries or so, this phenomenon seems to have been accelerating significantly due to the growing prominence of certain so-called “dominant” languages, to the detriment of local languages that are gradually being abandoned.
The researchers of the LACITO (Laboratory of Languages and cultures of oral tradition), affiliated with the CNRS (French National Centre for Scientific Research), have understood this all too well. Since 1976, this research center has been dedicated to the study of rare or minority languages, even those threatened with extinction. In this spirit, they have developed an online archiving program, the Pangloss Collection, to preserve the world’s linguistic heritage by storing recordings of rare languages. This project takes its name from a term coined by Voltaire in his philosophical novella Candide ou l’Optimisme, from the Greek πᾶν / pan, meaning “all” and γλῶσσα / glossa, meaning “language.”
The result of more than twenty years of research, the Pangloss collection has grown over the years and now includes nearly 800 hours of audio in more than 170 languages. These audio or video recordings were collected by linguists, ethnologists and anthropologists in the field, and some of them have been transcribed and annotated, or even translated. The whole site is free to access: any and all contributions are always appreciated and external collaboration is encouraged in order to enrich the corpus with translations of the various recordings and thus help to cope with what is a real linguistic and cultural tragedy.