Mission: To raise awareness of endangered Indigenous languages and create an opportunity for users to appreciate the contribution these languages and their speakers make to global diversity.
Background: The planet's Indigenous peoples speak more than four thousand languages, which, in addition to their function as systems of communication, also serve to encode community histories, traditions, and knowledge of the planet and the species that inhabit it. At present, many of these languages are at risk of extinction. Indeed, the threat is so grave that the United Nations declared 2019 The Year of Indigenous Languages. According to the UN, globalization, political persecution, and assimilation are among the factors behind the steady decrease in language diversity — a trend responsible for the disappearance of a spoken language every two weeks. Coinciding with the UN"s efforts to halt and reverse the trend, Google Earth has launched an interactive collection on its Voyager platform titled Celebrating Indigenous Languages, with the aim of raising awareness about and preserving Indigenous languages globally. Of the fifty-five languages featured on the site, nineteen have been categorized by the UNESCO as either "vulnerable," "definitely endangered," or "severely endangered," while four are considered critically endangered.
Outstanding Web Features: In addition to spotlighting diverse communities around the globe, the project profiles activists who are fighting to preserve and revitalize their ancestral languages by teaching them to future generations and sharing them with non-Indigenous speakers. Visitors who click on any of the dozens of "placemarks" positioned on a Google Earth rendering of the globe are introduced to an Indigenous language that is in danger of extinction by a native-speaker of that language. Each speaker offers a recorded greeting in his or her language and responds to two questions (e.g., "What is your favorite proverb in your language?" or "Can you share a traditional song in your language?") The site features speakers spanning the globe from Morocco, Burkina Faso and Uganda, to Pakistan, India and Thailand, to Russia, Sweden, and Norway. Speakers also reflect briefly (in text) on why their languages need to be preserved, with many of the interviews having been conducted during the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues. The Google Earth team encourages those who speak an Indigenous language to reach out and contribute their stories to the project.