Is your language hip enough to spread the word about itself on global TV? Now it is!
Many people want to learn languages like English or Spanish in order to enjoy entertainment like Hollywood movies or Mexican soap operas. But pop culture as a language motivator does not stop there. Now Korean dramas are helping to save endangered languages like Udmurt, a language spoken by 350,000 people in Russia, and Maori, a language spoken by 60,000 people in New Zealand.
Living Tongues Institute for Endangered Languages with the help of Viki, a website that licenses television shows and movies and makes them available for crowdsourced translations, is trying to help keep more obscure languages alive and encourage the younger generations to use them by making contemporary pop culture from around the world available in these languages.
It certainly is an interesting project. Especially in this day and age, I do not doubt the allure of practicing a language through a Korean soap opera or a Bollywood movie instead of a grammar book. However, I was not surprised to learn that the most popular endangered language on Viki is Basque – the language spoken in the Basque regions of Spain and France. There are about 700,000 Basque speakers, which is a more numerous community than that of many other endangered languages, but also the Basques are fiercely proud of their unique identity and language.
The preservation project has its challenges though too. Some communities who speak endangered languages do not have ready access to reliable Internet. Some languages are not even written, which makes the task of subtitling impossible. Also, volunteers who are willing and able to translate into endangered languages can be hard to find. Nonetheless, it is an admirable project and I hope it continues, saving the world’s languages one Korean soap opera at a time.