School of Oriental and African Studies
Endangered Languages Documentation Programme
More than half of the languages spoken today may die out by the end of this century. To ensure that at least a record of these languages is preserved, in 2002 we founded the Endangered Languages Documentation Programme at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS)
The Programme gives grants to linguists and community members to document endangered languages worldwide. So far, it has helped record more than 430 near-extinct languages in 77 countries. Some of the documented languages have since fallen silent.
The Programme helped to document Great Andamanese, a critically endangered language of the Andaman Islands in the Bay of Bengal. It is generally believed to be the last surviving language going back to pre-Neolithic times in South-East Asia, a fast-closing window on a very ancient form of cognition. Present day Great Andamanese is formed from four Great Andamanese languages: Khora, Jeru, Cari and Bo. Since the project started documentation in 2004, two of these, Khora and Bo, have become extinct.
The Programme supported documentation of N/uu, a highly endangered language spoken by a small number of San, the oldest indigenous population of the Republic of South Africa. As recently as the 1990s, N/uu was believed to be extinct, largely because the few who were still capable of speaking the language hid this to avoid stigma under the apartheid system. The discovery of the existence of the language, soon after the establishment of the “new” South Africa, received considerable attention, because it had been assumed that no remnants of the original (San) population of the country had survived. The number of mother-tongue speakers has dropped from ca. 20 in the late 1990s to less than 10 in the 2000s, all of whom are at least in their late 60s.
Learn more about our cultural grants.