Written by Dyami Millarson
When we study languages in order to preserve them, people share with us the notion that a language is a community in the real world. I agree that this has been the case for eons, and I think that having a physical community is important. However, I also think that when one seeks to preserve a language for future generations in the modern world, a virtual community might help keep the language well-preserved. One does not know whether the descendants of the original community will ever (perhaps in some distant future) start speaking the language again, but in order to increase the chances of them being motivated to do so and them having good materials available to them to achieve their goal, a thriving virtual community is highly valuable.
Whether or not the descendants of the original community are interested, embracing virtual reality as a domain for the continued existence of the critically endangered minority language is vital. Furthermore, building a virtual community around the endangered language greatly aids the documentation efforts. A virtual community can offer valuable feedback. I believe that a number of endangered languages may first have to retreat to the vast landscape of virtual reality before making a comeback in the real world. Vital to the efforts for making such a comeback via virtual reality is that the language be well-documented. Many speakers may not fully comprehend the importance of this, but if all the vital information about the language is not available online, how is it supposed to be revived in the modern world with the majority of people using the internet more than they read books? There should be a huge amount of information available online to those who want to study, preserve and speak such language. This is an essential modern need.
Virtual reality can no longer be seen as separate from physical reality; the virtual and physical have become increasingly intertwined in the 21st century. Therefore, it is highly important for small languages to make the transition to the digital age, and this is thus an essential part of our language preservation efforts. Augmented by virtual reality, I believe any critically endangered language can be revived in the real world. If a language somehow manages to maintain its physical community while it is making the transition to building a virtual community, this is good because that means the physical one will only be strengthened by the virtual one; the virtual community can serve as a source of empowerment in the real world, and it may be seen as an inspirational stable fanbase that the physical community has around the world.
Online information-sharing about endangered languages is valuable, and it should be done using zero-cost and low-cost methods. There are plenty of online platforms available to us that can be used for building an information archive about endangered tongues. For instance, blogging is archiving. We are taking everything one small step at a time; patience is absolutely a must, for we cannot achieve all our goals instantaneously. We place high value on correct pronunciation, but we know also that the written materials in the languages that we study are few, and therefore it is important to keep producing new written materials in the languages very regularly. Moreover, the added benefit is that we keep improving our own speaking and writing skills as we are constantly producing new things. Production is what those languages need most right now, because continuous production is what ultimately enables and validates transmission. When plenty of materials have been produced, transmission is much easier and more valuable. Being productive bloggers is our current goal and focus, and we will definitely be productive in other ways in the future as well.
The documentation of endangered languages is intimately linked with our own self-improvement; we know that we must stay very self-critical in order to keep improving our language skills and we know that we must keep criticising our own efforts in order to guarantee the quality of our charitable work and to stay innovative. We have strict rules for ourselves in order to cultivate an environment of creativity; mindless repetition is the last thing that languages need when they are dying, for what they need is the restoration of the original human creativity that kept these languages thriving for centuries prior.
Only the dedicated human mind can restore the original language situation; it comes from the creative human brain and so creative human brains are required for language restoration. Creativity is not fostered in an environment where there is no self-reflection and thus healthy self-criticism is inevitable considering the altruistic goal. Humility is the eternal path to improvement. Human heritage preservation efforts require humble, dedicated minds; and even if those minds are praised by others, they should stay the most critical of themselves, because progress is essential. Constant productivity cannot achieved without serious self-reflection, and thus a productive man or woman is typically humble, for they see the weaknesses and strengths of themselves and know what to focus on to keep improving. While building a virtual community, the right critical mind-set must be fostered; practical philosophy is the basis.