In 2009, linguist David Harrison first encountered the speakers of Matukar Panau, a language common to about 600 people in two small villages in the hills of Papua New Guinea.
The villagers had no written alphabet, no electricity and no computers. But they had heard of the Internet and believed that if their language were to survive, they would have to put it on the Web.
Now they can. At a science conference here Friday, Mr. Harrison, of Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania, and his colleagues at National Geographic’s Enduring Voices project unveiled a set of online talking dictionaries that for the first time document the sound, syntax and structure of Matukar Panau and record seven other unusual, vanishing languages, including Tuvan in Mongolia, Chamacoco in Paraguay and Ho, Sora and Remo in India.