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Endangered Languages

The world's 7,000+ languages are in drastic decline, and most are predicted to vanish before they will be recorded or documented. This talk demonstrates how language extinction leads to intellectual impoverishment in all fields of science and culture. Concerted efforts to sustain, value, and revitalize our linguistic diversity are now underway in indigenous communities worldwide and may help to reverse the process. Audio and video recordings from endangered language communities around the world help to illustrate this trend.


K. David Harrison, Ph.D.

Associate Professor, Linguistics Department, Coordinator, Cognitive Science Program
Swarthmore College
Director of Research, Living Tongues Institute for Endangered Languages
500 College Avenue
Swarthmore, PA 19081

dharris2@swarthmore.edu

David Harrison is a linguist and leading specialist in the study of endangered languages. He founded the Enduring Voices project at National Geographic and is an associate professor at Swarthmore College. He received his doctorate from Yale University.

Dr. Harrison has done extensive fieldwork on endangered languages in Siberia and Mongolia Tuvan, Tsengel Tuvan, Tofa, Ös, Tuha, Monchak, and Munda, and also in Paraguay, Chile, Papua New Guinea, and India. His book, The Last Speakers: The Quest to Save the World's Most Endangered Languages, provides a vivid picture of the scientific consequences of language loss. He also depicts the human factor, including moving accounts of his encounters with last speakers in remote corners of the globe. Dr. Harrison’s work includes not only scientific descriptions of languages, but also storybooks, translations, and digital archives for the use of the native speaker communities.

Dr. Harrison co-starred in the Emmy-nominated documentary film The Linguists, which premiered at the Sundance Film Festival to rave reviews in February 2008. He makes frequent media appearances to promote language diversity, and his research is widely discussed in mainstream media. He has appeared on Good Morning America, The Colbert Report, WHYY Radio, NPR, and BBC, and in many other outlets. His work has been featured in articles in The New York Times, The Economist, The Washington Post, Science, Nature, The Los Angeles Times, and USA Today.

In 2004, Dr. Harrison co-founded the Living Tongues Institute for Endangered Languages, a 501(c)(3) non-profit dedicated to raising awareness and documenting and revitalizing small languages. The institute runs language documentation projects around the globe.

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