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WTF? Rap Music & Text Messages Are Helping Save Endangered Languages

Submitted by on July 11, 2011 – 8:46 am4 Comments

There are hundreds of endangered languages all over the globe that are dying out everyday. Mostly, people stop using them because they don’t help them communicate with the outside world like they used to. If only 10,000–20,000 people are using a certain language, it obviously limits the number of people that those folks can talk to outside of their immediate community. So as generations die out, they are taking many of the world’s older languages with them.

But not all of the languages out there that aren’t English, Spanish, French, or one of the other big languages are dying out. In fact, two things are reportedly helping many of these languages stay alive out there, in spite of all of the pressure put on the people who use them to change: Rap music and texting.

Strange, right? But SMS messages and hip-hop are actually helping keep several dying languages from disappearing forever. As far as the rap music goes, National Geographic recently launched a program called “Enduring Voices” that features young people from remote villages and towns all over the world creating videos of themselves rapping in their native languages to help prevent them from going extinct. With more than 3500 of the world’s 7000 languages in danger of disappearing by the year 2100, National Geographic wants to help to both document the languages and encourage young people to continue using them.

This video of a couple of teens from a remote part of India called Arunachal Pradesh rapping in the Aka language is an example of what National Geographic is trying to do.

Pretty interesting stuff. Especially when you consider that one of the arguments against rappers and rap music in general has always been that it’s hurting the English language and butchering certain parts of it. But the other reason that many young people are still using their old endangered languages is even more interesting than that.

In some parts of the world, teens are using endangered languages when they text as a way to keep a certain level of secrecy in their SMS messages. In places like Mexico and the Philippines, young people are using older languages when they text in order to keep their conversations private. And by doing so, they’re really helping to keep these languages alive—even if they’re only doing it for their own convenience.

With so many different languages at risk, it’s crazy to see how effective rap music and texting are when it comes to keeping certain languages alive. Of course, as the world gets smaller and smaller because of the Internet and other factors, we’re going to see a large percentage of the world’s languages die out once and for all. But, for now, organizations like National Geographic are, at the very least, extending the life of some of the languages out there and helping to document them so that future generations will know that they used to exist.

And, oddly enough, we have to credit rap music and texting for allowing them to do it. Go figure.

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