Google has launched on Wednesday a new tool that aims to help preserve languages on the brink of extinction, among them Yiddish.
The new service, called Woolaroo, is an open-source photo translation web app that uses machine learning and image recognition to give cultures the AI tools they need to protect their spoken tongues themselves. It is also available through the Google Arts & Culture app for Android and iOS.
To use the tool, users just have to point their phone camera at an object to have the AI recognize and describe it in a given language, complete with pronunciation.
In present day, there are close to 3,000 languages worldwide which face a risk of going extinct -- mostly community languages that are spoken by members of minority groups or communities within a majority language context. The number of speakers of such languages has been gradually dwindling as younger generations increasingly embrace majority languages and older generations of speakers pass away.
Yiddish is a language historically spoken by Ashkenazi Jews around Europe. It fuses High German-based vernacular with many elements taken from Hebrew and to some extent Aramaic.
According to Google, there are around 3,000,000 Yiddish speakers worldwide, mostly Hasidic and Haredi Jews in Israel, the United States, Canada, Russia and around Europe.
The number of Yiddish speakers is estimated to have peaked at around 11,000,000 speakers prior to World War II, but the language's prevalence has significantly declined due to the mass murder of Jews by the Nazis during the Holocaust and the revival of the Hebrew language as a spoken language after close to 2,000 years.
As well as Yiddish, 10 global languages are supported in total, including Louisiana Creole, Sicilian, Rapa Nui and Te Reo.