Project aims to preserve dying languages through poetry

Tom Lawson

The National Poetry Library is collecting poems written in endangered languages to help preserve them for future generations

With one of the world’s 7,000 languages dying out every two weeks, the UK’s National Poetry Library has started a new project to collect poems written in endangered tongues.

Launched on National Poetry Day, 28 September, organisers are appealing to the international public to submit poems that could be lost to future generations.

UNESCO estimates that of the 7,000 languages spoken in the world today, more than half are in danger of disappearing.

Submitting poems in endangered languages will help preserve poetic traditions for generations to come

The new appeal aims to collect poems in thousands of different languages, from Assyrian to Irish Gaelic. Those working on the project, which is being run with researchers from SOAS University, hope to add at least one poem from every language to the library’s archives.

In a tweet on the launch day, those at the National Poetry Library said: “By the end of the century, half the world’s current languages will be lost (UNESCO). Submit a poem in an endangered language and be part of preserving poetic traditions for generations to come.”

As well as taking public submissions of existing poems, the library has commissioned four poets to compose new poems in under threat languages. Joy Harjo will write in Native American Mvskoke (Creek) Nation; Nineb Lamassu in Iraq’s unofficial Assyrian language; and Ugandan poet Nick Makoha in his native Luganda.

The National Poetry Library is based at London’s Southbank Centre and is described as ‘the most comprehensive collection of poetry in Britain’.


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