Google has a new project whose aim is to catalog the world’s endangered languages before they’re extinguished. The stated purpose is to keep cultures and ideas from disappearing for good, and it’s a noble one. But despite how interesting any particular endangered culture might be, any original ideas they had were either co-opted by larger society or were simply unimportant in the larger scheme of things. Memes go through a Darwinist selection process to stay relevant and spread, and if they’re not better than the next meme, they’re discarded. It’s regrettable when oral/cultural histories are lost, but generally there’s no loss in quality of life for the general population. Indeed, those unlucky enough to still speak only these dying languages are probably condemned to a subpar quality of life because of the isolation it forces upon them. Another way to look at it is that these languages are dying precisely because they’re unimportant and possibly even detrimental to the speaker.
Despite the above issues, the project is still interesting in that is shows how diverse humanity is and where that diversity lies. Ethnically homogeneous East Asia has few endangered languages, but the geographically isolated areas of the Himalayas have an abundance of languages near extinction.