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Saving Voices Before They Are Lost

A new Voice of America video blog, or vlog, is documenting efforts to preserve some of the world’s most endangered languages – the dying Krim, Bom, and Mani languages of Sierra Leone and Guinea.  

 Lost Voices, promo, Bart ChildsWatch the vlog here

VOA broadcaster Bart Childs' stories tell not only of the languages, but of the people who speak them and the way of life they live. His tools are cameras, computers, and a solar charger, all carried in a heavy case dubbed "Fat Boy". One of the problems of the expedition, Childs explains, is transporting the case from place to place.

"There may be only 60 or 70 people who speak the Krim language," said Childs, whose travels begin with some of these speakers in a remote area of Sierra Leone, reachable only by boat. His first story, Getting There, introduces himself, his mission, and his companions as well as some of his first new friends in Southwestern Sierra Leone.  The brief story leaves viewers eager for the next installments.

"This unique project allows VOA's audiences to get behind the scenes in Africa, and become involved with efforts to document, and possibly help preserve, a language," said Steve Redisch, VOA's Executive Editor. "It also allows us to explore new ways to deliver content to our audiences worldwide."

Childs' reports will follow a documentation project funded by the National Science Foundation and the University of London, among others.  There are roughly 2,400 languages - out of about 6,700 worldwide - that are considered endangered, according to UNESCO, which recently launched a website dedicated to the issue - www.unesco.org/culture/en/endangeredlanguages.

Experts say documenting a language - and producing material about a language - can help preserve it. Extinction of a language often means the loss of culture, traditions and knowledge about issues such as medicinal herbs and other practices, some of which we see in the very first episode of Bart Childs’ vlog. Check back for upcoming installments!