Documenting China’s Disappearing Dialects

Up to 40% of China’s minority languages may be at risk of extinction. Phonemica, a project aiming to document China’s threatened languages and dialects through stories told by native speakers, is currently raising funds through indiegogo:

We’re a small group of linguists (and a growing group of volunteers) that believe that there is tremendous value in documenting China’s rapidly disappearing languages and dialects. Phonemica is a project to do exactly that. We are building an open archive of stories from people all over China and the Chinese diaspora, told in the everyday speech of their home towns.

[…] To date we have about 50 recordings. Our goal is to have over 500 recordings up by this time next year. This is an astonishingly large undertaking, and we are working with crowd-sourced, volunteer-generated content.

[…] Language is a window into the human mind. Studying diversity in language helps us understand diversity in culture and how we exist as societies. Sadly, much of China’s linguistic diversity is being threatened by ever-growing pressure from Standard Mandarin. As a result, fewer people are teaching their mother tongues to their children.

One consequence of this is that we’re quickly approaching a point where children cannot communicate with their grandparents, whose stories will then be lost. The academic side is that, with this loss of linguistic diversity, we are losing opportunities to understand how these languages work, giving us that much less to help us understand how language as a whole works.

People wishing to help the project other than by donating can register as volunteers or contact the team here.


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