How Virtual Travelling May Help Promote Endangered Languages

Written by Dyami Millarson

Last year around this time I virtually travelled to Hong Kong and explored the streets of Hong Kong, because I was dreaming about travelling in East Asia while I was sick and lying in my bed without the energy to travel abroad. I learned a lot about Hong Kong by simply using Google Maps street view to walk around in Hong Kong. I walked around a lot in the Mong Kok area, particularly Nathan Road, because I wanted to explore that area more and absorb all the details of what I saw in the streets. It was an extraordinarily satisfying experience to me.

The concept of virtual travelling has really taken off as a response to the 2020 pandemic: virtual travelling was an obscure concept before 2020, and since this year, it was suddenly discovered by the mainstream and it gained mainstream acceptance within the context of this year’s events.

At first glance, the notion that virtual travelling may help promote endangered languages relies on the premises that (a) the person who engages in virtual travel publishes their experiences somewhere such as on a personal blog or website, or communicates their experience to others in a YouTube video or talks about it in his social circle, (b) the person virtually travels to a place where a minority language is spoken, and (c) the person has some awareness of the endangered language.

Premise (a) is about communication, and this premise really isn’t negotiable, because the point is not whether the virtual traveller gains something from his experiences, but the point is whether he promotes endangered languages by communicating his experiences to others in some way.

Premise (b) is not as obvious as it may seem, because I could virtually travel to any place, such as Hong Kong as I did last year around this time, and I could talk about any endangered language I want. I can talk about endangered languages in any situation and any place, because I have acquired an intense awareness of endangered languages in my life and I have developed the creative ability to introduce the topic of endangered languages in any conversation. After all, it is my work to talk about endangered languages and so I can combine it with any mundane topic or mix it in with any serious topic that others might think of as unrelated to endangered languages.

I am eager to seize any opportunity to talk about endangered languages and besides, it might be boring to always talk about this in the same setting and so it is crucial to change the setting, which might also help with developing new ideas, as getting stuck in one setting often leads to stagnation. Travelling, and I also think virtual travelling, is inspiring, and just like I read books in order to be inspired, travelling, whether it be physical or virtual, is something I engage in to be inspired.

Premise (c) supposes a degree of knowledge on the part of the virtual traveller, who might have acquired that knowledge by doing a quick online search for information about whether a local language is spoken in the area he intends to virtually travel to and whether or not that language is severely endangered. Premise (c) basically introduces a concept of “linguistically conscious virtual travelling” and this is a concept that I will explore more later on our blog.

As I already pointed out that visiting a place where a minority language is spoken may not be necessary for talking about endangered languages, it may also not be necessary that an endangered local language is spoken in the place where the virtual travel intends to go. It is nevertheless always interesting to check what languages are spoken in an area, and I would certainly recommend doing so and making one’s readers aware of the linguistic situation in the place that one (virtually) visits.

Since it may be harder to visit minority areas in the future, we will certainly consider virtual travelling, which is accompanied by a virtual meeting with last speakers, as a way to complete our language challenges. We may not do things this way and continue with our traditional method of physically visiting places and meeting last speakers, but we will definitely consider the modern method of virtually visiting places and virtually meeting last speakers in case that is more practical and perhaps more financially feasible for us, because travelling isn’t cheap either, although we know that the results of physical travelling and meeting last speakers could be extraordinary.

One way in which we could also adopt virtual travel on our blog is talking about our virtual travel experiences in endangered languages, which may be seen as our way at Operation X to fulfil all of the aforementioned premises at the same time. We like to kill two birds with one stone, or better yet, kill three birds with one stone, which saves us a lot of time and energy. Some of our readers may think that we do not provide translations of our minority language texts because we wish to save time and energy. However, the reality is that we usually refuse to provide translations of texts written in minority languages not only due to practical time constraints, but also due to our persuasion that people should be intrigued about the mysterious texts and they should experience how “alien” these languages really are in order to become convinced that these are languages worth studying. We wish to arouse curiosity in our readers, and if we translated the texts for our readers, we would eliminate that curiosity. In fact, it is our policy not to translate texts. Other reasons include that it will make our blog messy because the articles will be too long and we want to focus on writing original content in each and every language, we detest translations because it diminishes our creative spirit and instead we wish to create an environment which is conducive to originality and which strongly discourages any form of unoriginal reasoning.

Apart from writing virtual travel articles in minority languages, we might also launch a virtual travelling series where we visit minority areas and inform our English, German, Dutch, Swedish or Clay and Wood Frisian readers about the language, culture and history of those places. These are certainly endeavours that we will consider for spicing up our blog a little. We might start writing virtual travel articles this or next year, although it really depends on how much studying and other work we need to perform for Operation X. However, I feel that we will definitely get the chance eventually to engage in virtual travelling and report back to our readers about this.

12 comments

  1. Virtual traveling is an abstract concept of traveling. Hope you and your organization can make more efforts to it so that you can show us what exactly you get from virtual traveling. As we all know,the best way to understand culture is to understand its language. Tourist may not directly learn language,but they can be influenced by what they experienced in the traveling. Language can be passed from one generation to next generation,only when there are people who intrigue to their culture,who are willing to explore such minority places. Therefore,hope you can explore more.

    Liked by 2 people

    • During a live interview in 2019, there was a tourist expert who said that tourists wouldn’t notice the difference between local languages. I beg to differ because tourists could be made aware of this. However, do you think that although tourists may not learn the language fully, they will be interested in learning some basic facts and details about it? What is your view on the place of endangered languages in the tourism industry?

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Fascinating: I never realized that it is possible to virtually walk around the streets of a distant place using Gmaps! I’ll have to try it!
    Wouldn’t you include some need to interact in or with the endangered language, and to show that in the blog post?

    Liked by 2 people

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