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K. David Harrison
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Dr. K. David Harrison is a linguist and leading specialist in the study of endangered languages. He co-leads the Enduring Voices Project at National Geographic Society and is an Associate Professor of Linguistics at Swarthmore College. He received his doctorate from Yale University.

Harrison has done extensive fieldwork in Siberia, Mongolia, Paraguay, India, and Native America. In his book, When Languages Die: The Extinction of the World’s Languages and the Erosion of Human Knowledge (Oxford 2007), Harrison provides a vivid picture of the scientific consequences of language loss. Harrison’s work includes not only scientific descriptions of languages, but also storybooks, talking dictionaries, and digital archives for the use of native speaker communities.

Harrison co-stars in the documentary film The Linguists, which premiered at Sundance Film Festival to rave reviews in February 2008 and was nominated for an Emmy in 2010. Harrison makes frequent media appearances to promote language diversity, and his research is widely discussed in mainstream media. He has appeared on Good Morning America, The Colbert Report, WHYY Radio, NPR, BBC, and in many other outlets. His work has been featured in The New York Times, The Washington Post, Science, Nature, The Los Angeles Times, Wired, and USA Today.

In 2004 Harrison co-founded the Living Tongues Institute for Endangered Languages, a 501(c)(3) non-profit dedicated to documenting and revitalizing small languages. In 2006 he coined the term “Language Hotspots”, which has since become a leading promotional metaphor for understanding the language extinction crisis. Harrison and his colleagues have embarked on a series of National Geographic-sponsored expeditions to visit the hotspots and interview last speakers in places such as Australia, Bolivia, and India. His recent book The Last Speakers: The Quest to Save the World's Most Endangered Languages (2010) depicts the human factor in language extinction, recounting the personal stories of linguistic survivors from remote corners of the globe.

Entries by K. David Harrison

Billion Word Bonanza

(0) Comments | Posted October 15, 2015 | 4:08 PM

Movie subtitles can annoy--as visual clutter--when you don't need them, but they are a godsend for the deaf and anyone watching a foreign language film. Now a devoted group of 200,000 volunteer video subbers on have elevated the humble subtitle to an art form. They spin lines...

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Manx's Surprising Revival

(5) Comments | Posted February 21, 2015 | 6:47 AM

Half of the world's languages are endangered, and rapidly passing into oblivion. Manx--the ancient Celtic tongue spoken on the Isle of Man--had all but vanished by the 1970s. Defying the odds, it has returned to daily use through the heroic efforts of Manx language warriors. I visited the Isle of...

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Two Traditional Languages Evade Extinction With the Internet

(0) Comments | Posted September 24, 2014 | 5:05 PM

We live in an age of endless information, an age where knowledge can be preserved and accessed as never before. But with major global languages dominating the internet, smaller languages may be left out, or even pushed down a pathway towards extinction.

Indigenous communities such as the Yokoim and...

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Celebrating Language Warriors

(4) Comments | Posted February 21, 2012 | 2:02 PM

From the rugged Oregon coast, to the Himalayan foothills, to seaside jungle villages of Papua New Guinea, small languages are fighting to survive. Pressed by a tide of globalization, and a barrage of negative messages telling them their cultures and ways of thinking are outmoded, a global cohort of language...

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Emerging Languages, Emergent Knowledge

(6) Comments | Posted February 18, 2011 | 1:39 PM

When ideas go extinct, we all grow poorer. Half the world's 7,000 languages now face extinction; a dramatic shift in human intellectual history. Our 21st century world -- replete with wondrous technologies -- rests upon the foundation of all humankind's prior wisdom and creativity.

This human knowledge...

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