January Changemaker: Dr. Gregory D.S. Anderson

Happy new year! The UN has declared 2019 as the Year of Indigenous Languages, and will kick it off tomorrow on February 1. It may seem like a small thing, but by one estimate an indigenous language disappears every 14 days. And entire language, gone every 2 weeks! When the world loses a language, not only do those who speak it lose their mother tongue, but all of us lose potentially vital local knowledge of how to combat environmental threats. We also lose another piece of the diversity that makes our earth rich and vibrant. Saving indigenous languages isn’t just a nice pet project, it’s one that can make a huge difference to all of us, no matter what language we speak. Our January changemaker, Dr. Gregory D. S. Anderson, has been working to save indigenous languages for over a decade.

Dr. Anderson founded Living Tongues, a nonprofit organization dedicated to the documentation, revitalization, and maintenance of endangered languages, in 2005. Through the partnership between Living Tongues and National Geographic’s Enduring Voices project, Anderson traveled to places like Central Siberia, Bolivia and even Northern California to study, collect, and save indigenous languages. With Dr. K. David Harrison, Anderson developed a new way of looking at languages, identifying “language hotspots” around the globe. These are areas urgently in need of action to save languages.

Through Living Tongues, he has created over 100 talking dictionaries, created digital skills workshops and language technology kits in over a dozen countries, and worked tirelessly to document languages on 5 continents. No matter the language we use to say it, we owe Dr. Anderson a huge “thank you” for his work to save indigenous languages and the important knowledge the represent.

Four Things That Happen When a Language Dies

smithsonian.com 1. We lose “The expression of a unique vision of what it means to be human” Languages around the world are dying, and dying fast. Today is International Mother Language Day, started by UNESCO to promote the world’s linguistic diversity. The grimmest predictions have 90 percent of the world’s languages dying out by the end of this century.


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Remembering Dora Manchado, the last speaker of Tehuelche

We received sad news today. On January 4th 2019, the last speaker of Tehuelche passed away. Her name was Dora Manchado, and she was beloved by her community and those who knew her. Tehuelche [teh], also known as Aonekko to local community members, or Patagonian to historians, is a language from the southernmost tip of South America.

Vanishing Voices

One language dies every 14 days. By the next century nearly half of the roughly 7,000 languages spoken on Earth will likely disappear, as communities abandon native tongues in favor of English, Mandarin, or Spanish. What is lost when a language goes silent?

Enduring Voices

By 2013, the Enduring Voices project had completed 15 expeditions, from Australia to South America to India to the California coast. Working with local communities on more than 100 languages, the project team documented the geographic dimensions of language distribution, identified links between biodiversity and linguistic diversity, and recorded and catalogued translations of words and phrases as a resource to help communities teach their native language to the next generation.

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