How technology helps and harms endangered languages

Languages are disappearing at fastest rate in history, accelerated by digital dominance of English

Vintage-style illustration of the earth on a bright yellow background, with Britain and USA highlighted in red. Multiple red arrows point from both countries to the rest of the world.
US-made technology predominantly uses the Roman alphabet, while vast swathes of the internet are dominated by English
(Image credit: Illustration by Julia Wytrazek / Getty Images)

Technology is accelerating the rate of language disappearance, even while it offers the hope of preserving those that are endangered or extinct. 

A new crowd-sourcing platform aims to preserve the sound of Romeyka, an endangered relation to Greek considered a "linguistic goldmine and a living bridge to the ancient world", said Romeyka is thought to have only "a couple of thousand native speakers" in Turkey – mostly aged over 65 – and no writing system. Professor Ioanna Sitaridou of the University of Cambridge is inviting Romeyka-speakers to upload audio recordings of the language, as part of the UN's International Decade of Indigenous Languages (2022-32) initiative.

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Harriet Marsden is a writer for The Week, mostly covering UK and global news and politics. Before joining the site, she was a freelance journalist for seven years, specialising in social affairs, gender equality and culture. She worked for The Guardian, The Times and The Independent, and regularly contributed articles to The Sunday Times, The Telegraph, The New Statesman, Tortoise Media and Metro, as well as appearing on BBC Radio London, Times Radio and “Woman’s Hour”. She has a master’s in international journalism from City University, London, and was awarded the "journalist-at-large" fellowship by the Local Trust charity in 2021.