Historically, indigenous languages have not only been minimized but also marginalized, and this spans every domain, including cyberspace. This has limited the possibility of appreciating other communities, worldviews and traditions. Every indigenous language in the world is undergoing linguistic displacement and, consequently, disappearing. Although some remain active, their use is reserved for private spaces, forcing them to gradually give up their public domain and falling into disuse.
Wikipedia, like other new, non-commercial information technologies, can be used to open new public spaces for these languages, and gradually recover the ground lost to more dominant languages. No one today can legitimately doubt that Wikipedia is the largest collaborative encyclopedia ever created and hosted in cyberspace. Its commitment: “Imagine a world in which every single person on the planet is given free access to the sum of all human knowledge” is certainly ideal, and is demonstrated by the 37 million open-access articles (and in Creative Commons) written in 289 languages.
However, the representation of indigenous languages on the platform is very low, even though in Latin America there are 522 indigenous communities who speak 420 different languages – of the 6,000 that exist worldwide – and make up 10% of the total regional population. To date, only four official indigenous-language versions are represented: Quechua (19,900 articles), followed by Náhuatl (9,940 articles), Aymara (3,830 articles) and Guaraní (3,128 articles); and 29 more projects are in the Wikipedia Incubator.
In October 2016, Rising Voices, with the support of the Wikimedia Foundation, developed the study “Best Practices for Creating Free Knowledge in Indigenous Languages on Wikipedia” in order to effectuate a change and see a greater number of languages, their respective cultures and worldviews represented on Wikipedia. The general purpose of the study is to document and evaluate the status of indigenous languages on Wikipedia as a way of identifying the current capacity and the difficulties in creating and sustaining participation, particularly of native speakers.
Read more: Global Voices