Language Community of the Future: Virtual or Physical?

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.

4 comments

  1. Aside from preserving endangered as well as ancient languages, I also hope that well-known international standard languages like the Morse code, Braille ,sign and semaphore languages are preserved as well. In this era of texting (the new language) nowadays, it’s just my thoughts on this matter. Have a good Yuletide season!

    Liked by 1 person

    • I hope that any language never gets into the situation where they need to be saved.
      It is better to prevent than to cure.
      However, when they do become “patients”, we will admit those languages into our “hospital” and I hope that our “treatment” can save them for all future generations.
      Our focus is mainly on “curing” because there are really a lot of languages that require our immediate attention.
      However, I hope that this blog inspires people to seek to prevent language decline and to keep finding new creative ways to use their language(s) in the modern digital age.
      When you see patients in a hospital, that should inspire you to live a healthy lifestyle.
      It is likewise very important for languages to stay healthy and vigorous.
      Languages have tremendously long lifespans which span countless human generations and they may even survive indefinitely due to modern sound-recording technology combined with the old invention of writing. Latin is a good example of an undead language, but imagine they had sound-recording technology 2000 years ago, then Latin would already have been an immortal language in both spoken and written form!
      Currently the challenge with Latin is reviving the spoken form, and this is also the case with some languages that have recently gone extinct but are still preserved in writing.
      If neither texts nor recordings exist for an extinct language, then it may be impossible to revive; many languages, or important aspects of knowledge in/about certain languages, are lost forever.
      It is our mission to seek to document those languages, or fill in gaps of our knowledge about them, ere it is too late for the knowledge ever to be retrieved. The memories of speakers are fragile archives that can only be consulted for as long as the speakers are alive and fully conscious, but modern technologies, to which we are uploading/transferring the data, have no such biological limitations. Digital archives, just like books once were the best archives, are great for being able to retrieve information 24/7 and from anywhere in the world; they are no replacement of the human memory but are aids for supporting human memory and intergenerational information transfer.
      One can easily find a great deal of information online about morse code, braille, sign language(s), etc. However, when one runs a simple Google search on Hindeloopers, Schiermonnikoogs and Oosterschellings, almost nothing appears. At the moment, we could only wish for so much to be written and known about Hindeloopers, Schiermonnikoogs and Oosterschellings as there is known about morse code, braille, sign language(s), etc. because easy access to information would ease any revitalisation efforts. With all the knowledge disseminated online, it is easier to keep morse code alive than it is to keep Schiermonnikoogs alive. We seek to address this inequality first.
      I realise that equality for languages such as Schiermonnikoogs, Hindeloopers and Oosterschellings can only be achieved through hard work.
      Our New Year resolutions will take the aforementioned facts into account and so we will try our best in 2019 for our mission of saving knowledge/information.
      Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!
      – Dyami Millarson

      Liked by 1 person

  2. My sister-in-law documents oral history of places undergoing rapid and great change. In some ways, a virtual community is like a community of mind. Our memories don’t live in the “real world” they live only inside our head. I write in a script that when my Mom dies, I’ll probably be the last one. That’s okay! Or, that’s virtually okay, anyway…

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    • That is a philosophically intriguing point, a virtual community is a community of the mind.
      The virtual continuation of local languages may come as a shock to some, but it is really not that shocking if you think about it.
      The virtual community would likely heavily rely on the written language (although preserving a spoken language online is totally possible in this day and age), and I believe there is a point in keeping the spoken language as well.
      Speakers of local languages often assert something along these lines: “Our language is to be spoken, because it has always been like that.”
      I do not disagree, but when the situation is dire, and you need to choose between digitalisation and total extinction, the former is the best option of course.
      It is a matter of survival, and I think that if a language survives – and perhaps even thrives – online, there is always a good chance that it can still return to the physical world.
      As long as the language continues to be used in one way or another, achieving full revitalisation in the real world is always just one step away.
      My view is that change is not necessarily a problem for tradition and continuity. Languages and cultures have continued to be passed on for generations despite rapid and great change.
      The point is rather to embrace that change fully and to use it to pass on the traditional knowledge.
      Those who fight against the currents of history are swept away by it, and those who accept fate can seize the opportunities for survival.
      So the acceptance is all a matter of “transcribing”, “updating”, “transforming”, “uploading”, “sharing”, etc. in the Digital Age.
      Digitalisation is a great opportunity for the transmission of traditional knowledge, and survival in some virtual reality may be the aid that is required for assuring a restoration of the spoken language in the real world.
      – Dyami Millarson

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