We are a group of professional linguists committed to the documentation and preservation of endangered languages, especially those of western North America. WIELD was founded to conduct the important work of researching and documenting endangered and extinct languages, many of which have been ignored or understudied previously.
The world’s languages are dying. More than 6,000 languages were spoken at the beginning of this century, but the vast majority of humanity speaks one of a dozen tongues (such as English, Spanish, Mandarin Chinese, Indonesian, etc.). The minority of humans who speak the majority of earth’s languages continue to be under intense pressure not to pass their ancestral speech on to the rising generation.
What is lost when a language dies? Language and culture are inextricably linked: the heart and soul of speakers’ culture is lost when a language is no longer spoken. There are so many different ways to see the world and categorize information, and each human language is a sort of time capsule into which each possible way of organizing the world has been passed from generation to generation.
WIELD exists to fill a gap in the work to document and preserve endangered languages. Despite the existence of hundreds of research institutions, many of the world’s most threatened languages remain un- or under-documented and poorly understood.
WIELD seeks to support the difficult task of working with archival data and, where possible, living speakers in order to produce materials (scholarly papers, descriptive grammars, dictionaries, published texts, etc.) which will be of value to scholars while simultaneously supporting any communities or individual heritage speakers in their efforts to learn Indigenous languages by means of high-quality pedagogical materials which, though aimed at a different audience, do not strip the languages of their beauty and complexity.
(Click here to learn more about WIELD’s logo and how it relates to the foundation of the organization.)