FIONA MACDONALD | BBC | Extract
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LONDON - They fly to Port Moresby in Papua New Guinea and there
they take a bus for three days and then they hike over a mountain
and then they take a canoe and then they get to this little bay
with 300 people.
Its the stuff of Indiana Jones but rather than seeking out a
treasure hidden in the jungle, the aim of this journey is to
And the people venturing into some of the worlds most remote
places arent hardened adventurers carrying whips.
Instead, they are PhD students of 25 with a digital camera, a
digital audio recorder and solar panels, according to Mandana
Seyfeddinipur, head of the Endangered Languages Archive at Londons
SOAS (School of Oriental Studies).
But what the roving linguists find is arguably up there with a
lost Incan temple.
They live with the communities for months at a time, and develop
social relationships, and talk to them and record them, and then
they come back and they give me this SD card, Seyfeddinipur tells
Im such a wimp, I get so teary when I first hold it, because
possibly the only record that we have of this language is in this
tiny SD card.
Seyfeddinipur has been working with Londons Southbank Centres
National Poetry Library to preserve words that would otherwise be
The doomsday linguistic view is that by the end of this century,
in the next 85 years, we will lose 3,500 languages half of the
7,000 languages that are spoken today will fall silent, she says.
Were losing languages at the same speed at which the world lost its
dinosaurs at the fifth mass extinction.
Although its a natural process people move somewhere, they give
up their language and adapt another language, its the beauty of
language that its a social tool, she argues its now happening at an
Because of globalisation and urbanisation and climate change,
this process has sped up beyond what weve ever seen.
The newly launched Endangered Poetry Project aims to tackle that
loss at another level. Languages are dying out at an astonishing
rate: a language is being lost every two weeks, says the National
Poetry Librarian Chris McCabe.
And each of those languages has a poetic tradition of some sort,
whether its written or aural within that poetry will be all the
different approaches and styles of writing poetry, as well as
everything that poetry can tell us about those people: what