Language Documentation & Conservation

Dr. William O'Grady with the Jeju Language Preservation Society.
Dr. William O’Grady with the Jeju Language Preservation Society.

The world’s languages are dying out at an unprecedented rate. More than 7,000 languages are spoken around the globe, but half of them may disappear by the end of the century. Language endangerment poses a catastrophic threat for science and signals danger to human rights and culture. Working with indigenous communities, linguists create audio and video documentation of language as spoken by a variety of people in a range of contexts. This documentation serves as a long-lasting linguistic record, providing the backbone for scientific analyses as well as efforts to revitalize and sustain a community’s language heritage.

View of the Atlantic Ocean from Cameroon.
View of the Atlantic Ocean from Cameroon.

Our department has long been a leader in the the work to document, preserve, and revitalize endangered languages around the world. Right now, we are the only institution in the United States that offers a graduate program in language documentation and conservation. Since our founding in 1963, we have been dedicated to linguistic fieldwork on under-documented languages, especially in Asia and the Pacific. Our many groundbreaking projects and initiatives include:

  • The Endangered Language Catalog (ELCat): A central feature of the Endangered Languages Project, ELCat is the most definitive, authoritative, and up-to-date resource on the endangered languages of the world.
  • The HALA Project: The Hawaii Assessment of Language Access uses psycholinguistic techniques to help assess language strength and monitor the success of revitalization efforts.
  • Language Documentation Training Center: Initiated and run entirely by graduate students, the LTDC helps train native speakers to work on the documentation of their own endangered languages and to inspire them to become language advocates for their communities.
  • Kaipuleohone: Kaipuleohone is the University of Hawai’i’s digital archive for audio and video recordings as well as notes, dictionaries, transcriptions, and other materials related to small and endangered languages.