Written by Dyami Millarson
Many local languages are endangered in Europe and all other parts of the globe. The achievement of digital continuity is one way to preserve these languages for the foreseeable future. The physical community may go extinct, whilst the digital or virtual one survives. The question is, if that non-physical community guarantees the survival of the local language and the original physical community goes extinct, does it even matter? After all, the physical community has in that case already succesfully managed to ‘reproduce’ itself by means of passing on its knowledge. Being capable of transferring all knowledge to the digital world is by no means a small feat for the continuity of the local language itself.
The physical community has some influence on and interaction with the immediate physical environment, and chance has it that this influence and interaction are recorded in the vocabulary, sayings, stories, poems and songs of the local language. The existence of this physical community may be linked to the continuity or stability of the immediate physical environment. In other words, the existence of the physical community bound by the language may have very real ecological implications.
It is doubtful that the digital community keeping the memory of the physical community alive will have such sway over the physical environment that speakers of the local language used to inhabit. The link with the immediate environment is lost. The concern for that original environment may indeed exist among that digital community, but the question is how much real-world influence they will have, and how much they can really do to preserve that original environment, which may be hundreds or thousands of miles away from the majority of speakers. The physical influence of the digital community on that environment is highly doubtful, and cannot be assumed with any degree of certainty. We can hope that they will have some influence, but we cannot simply assume it by virtue of hope.
The absence of a physical community following a knowledge transfer to the digital world and the succesful creation of a living digital community which continues the daily use of the local language would essentially be the same as that all the speakers of the local language have migrated from their original location, thus limiting their influence on that environment. In fact, the community has migrated from real world to the digital or virtual world, and continues to exist digitally and in the minds of a select group of individuals. This has implications for environmental preservation. The absence of a digital community that is highly sympathetic to the original location of the speakers of the local language – and actively keeps the memory of that environment alive by means of using, learning and teaching the language – would obviously be a loss too, because it is better for environmental preservation for such non-physical community to exist than for no such community to exist however limited their influence may be compared to the original physical community of the language.
The loss of the physical community may or may not be preventable, but either way we need to philosophise about how to limit the ecological/environmental damage caused by the loss of the physical community. This requires thinking about how to maximise the real-world influence of the digital community that keeps the language alive. One possible solution could be to achieve a high degree of efficiency and organisation in the digital community. This implies a kind of centralisation. This may or may not be viable, but the fact the digital speakers are a community somehow supposes they can (a) connect with each other in some way and (b) communicate with each other in a regular basis. That digital connection regular communication provide opportunities for the dissemination of ideas that could potentially lead to action or change in the real world that is favourable to the preservation of the original environment where the local language was spoken. After all, the digital speakers have a role to play or moral duty as last protectors of the local environment where the local language evolved and exercised influence. Physical speakers were the original guardians of the local environment, and the higher purpose or sacred mission of the digital speakers is to honour that legacy by keeping the local knowledge alive and seeking to encourage action based on this.