Archive for Endangered languages

Steven Bird's language documentation work

You should watch this segment from the Australian Broadcasting Corporation about Steven Bird's project to record oral texts in endangered languages using smartphone apps: "Academics team up to save dying languages", 3/13/2014.

And on Steven's website, there are a couple of radio interviews, and lots of text and pictures about this work.

 

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"Chinese" well beyond Mandarin

A topic which I have raised here and elsewhere a number of times is that of Sinitic topolects and languages (www.sino-platonic.org/complete/spp029_chinese_dialect.pdf), and I have also called attention to the increasing domination of Mandarin in education and the media.  Even native speakers within China sometimes don't appreciate quite how varied the Sinitic group of languages can be.  People often say that someone can move from one valley to the next, or one village to the next, and just not be able to make themselves understood.  But until you've been in that situation yourself, it doesn't really hit home.  Before long, I'll post on Shanghainese and will provide audio recordings that will demonstrate clearly just how different it is from Modern Standard Mandarin (MSM).  There are countless other varieties of "Chinese" that are just as different from each other as Shanghainese (or Cantonese or Taiwanese, for that matter) are from MSM.

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Androids in Amazonia: recording an endangered language

Augustine Tembé, recording a story using a smartphoneThe village of Akazu’yw lies in the rainforest, a day’s drive from the state capital of Belém, deep in the Brazilian Amazon. Last week I traveled there, carrying a dozen Android phones with a specialized app for recording speech. It wasn't all plain sailing…

Read the full story here.

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Endangered Alphabets

My attention has been recently drawn to Tim Brookes' Endangered Alphabets project and to its second Kickstarter project, Endangered Alphabets II: Saving Languages in Bangladesh. You can follow the links to find out more; copied below is the text from the Kickstarter page, with images provided by Tim Brookes and Hailey Neal. If you feel moved to pledge to their cause, please do so — they have 127 backers as of this writing, pledging a total of $4,535, with only 19 days to go to reach their goal of $10,000.

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Last month on the EL trail

It's been a while since I've been on the endangered languages beat. Here are a couple of links of recent writings on the topic for those who are interested.

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Create a language, go to jail

I've received several messages with links to this NYT piece since its appearance online on Sunday. The piece is on Dothraki, a constructed language used in the HBO series "Game of Thrones" and invented by David J. Peterson, founder and President of the Language Creation Society and (as it happens) a former PhD student here in the Extreme Southwest Wing of Language Log Plaza. The piece also talks about constructed languages ("conlangs") and language constructors ("conlangers") a bit more generally, and most specifically with respect to their use in Hollywood. (That 'their' is purposely ambiguous.)

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Myaamia revitalization and Meskwaki insults

Two conferences I really want to attend are currently in progress. The one I'm at is in Milwaukee, on Language Death, Endangerment, Documentation, and Revitalization; there have been some wonderful talks here, highlighted by "Searching for our talk" by Daryl Baldwin, head of the Myaamia Project at Miami University (that's Miami in Ohio, not Florida): an inspiring and moving description of his and his tribe's efforts to revive and revitalize the Miami language, an Algonquian language that had not been spoken (until Baldwin began his personal journey) for over a hundred years but that is richly documented from past times, from Jesuit missionaries onward.

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New search service for language resources

It has just become a whole lot easier to search the world's language archives.  The new OLAC Language Resource Catalog contains descriptions of over 100,000 language resources from over 40 language archives worldwide.

This catalog, developed by the Open Language Archives Community (OLAC), provides access to a wealth of information about thousands of languages, including details of text collections, audio recordings, dictionaries, and software, sourced from dozens of digital and traditional archives.

OLAC is an international partnership of institutions and individuals who are creating a worldwide virtual library of language resources by: (i) developing consensus on best current practice for the digital archiving of language resources, and (ii) developing a network of interoperating repositories and services for housing and accessing such resources.  The OLAC Language Resource Catalog was developed by staff at the Linguistic Data Consortium, the University of Pennsylvania Libraries, the Graduate Institute of Applied Linguistics, and the University of Melbourne.  The primary sponsor is the National Science Foundation.

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Enduring Voices channel on YouTube

I'm a bit tardy in reporting this, but better late than never: the endangered language research team of K. David Harrison and Greg Anderson, in collaboration with National Geographic, have started a YouTube channel for their Enduring Voices mission. (Read more about it here and here.)

Enduring Voices on YouTube

The last time I'd mentioned Harrison and Anderson on Language Log, back in July, their documentary The Linguists had just received an Emmy® nomination for "Outstanding Science and Technology Programming". Since then, Harrison's book The Last Speakers: The Quest to Save the World's Most Endangered Languages has been published (in September), and there was an associated splash in the media (in October) concerning Harrison and Anderson's discovery of the 'hidden' Tibeto-Burman language Koro. Sorry, I've been away from my desk. I'll try to do better.

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"Pure" Inuit language, and bucking the snow-word trend

The Guardian has an article today entitled, "Linguist on mission to save Inuit 'fossil language' disappearing with the ice," about a forthcoming research trip by University of Cambridge linguist Stephen Pax Leonard to study Inuktun, an endangered Polar Inuit language spoken by the Inughuit community of northwest Greenland.

It's always great to see this kind of coverage for anthropological linguistics, and the article is worth a read — though I'm a bit suspicious of the claim that Inuktun "is regarded as something of a linguistic 'fossil' and one of the oldest and most 'pure' Inuit dialects." Regarded by whom? The scare quotes (or claim quotes) around "fossil" and "pure" fail to indicate whose notion of ethnolinguistic purity is at play here. (The "language" vs. "dialect" confusion throughout the article doesn't help, either.)

But perhaps the most remarkable aspect of the news article is what it doesn't include. From the Guardian Style Guide's Twitter feed:

We have managed to carry a story on Inuit language without the cliche "number of words for snow". Well done Mark Brown.

Well done, indeed. Once again, it's good to know that our perpetual gripes about the snow-word myth are not just empty howls echoing across the tundra.

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The Linguists receives an Emmy® nomination

Nat Geo E-TeamThe documentary film The Linguists has just received an Emmy® nomination for "Outstanding Science and Technology Programming". The press release can be found ; for those of you who would like a downloadable keepsake, the relevant nomination can be found on p. 25 of the PDF and Word versions of the press release.

In related (and even more awesome) news, the stars of The LinguistsK. David Harrison and Greg Anderson — are also featured members of the Nat Geo E-Team on the National Geographic Kids website. You can spot their cartoon likenesses in the full image fairly quickly: they're the only ones who are talking. But there they are on the right for those who just want a quick peek.

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Oh, we got endangered languages / right here in New York City

[ Note: the San Diego wing of Language Log Plaza is about as far from NYC as you can get in the continental U.S.; I just couldn't resist the title. ]

Surely, most if not all of our devoted Language Log readers have by now noticed the recent NYT story "Listening to (and Saving) the World's Languages", about some of the work being done by the Endangered Language Alliance to document and preserve endangered languages spoken in New York City. (And in case you hadn't noticed it, there it is. Check it out.)

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Talking Osage

An interesting discussion by Ryan Red Corn about efforts to revive the Osage language:

No longer than a short while after the program got up and running did the tribe watch its last first language Osage speaker pass away, Lucille Roubedeaux.

As Uncle Mogre explained, “This is the last train out. If we can’t get it done this time around, then that’s it. There is no more after this. That’s it.” Everyone who ever heard those words fully understood the gravity of the situation, and decided that they did not want the language dying on their watch, including myself. [...]

With the introduction of the language department, dedicated students and teachers started to create new speakers for the first time in only God knows how many years. It’s quite literally been close to 200 years since the last time the number of Osage speakers INCREASED. It’s difficult to take into account what this scrappy bunch of Osages has done until you put it into perspective. The Vatican even called to verify the miracle (Ok I made that last part up).

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Sahaptin Dictionary

The first modern dictionary of Sahaptin has been published. Sahaptin is a language of the Northwestern plateau, spoken in the drainage of the Columbia River in southern Washington, northern Oregon, and southwestern Idaho. There are now no more than 200 speakers. This dictionary is of the Yakima dialect, called by its speakers Ichishkíin Sɨ́nwit.

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So many languages, so much technology…

Suppose you had 100 digital recorders and 800 small languages, all in a country the size of California, but in one of the remotest parts of the planet.  What would you do?  What would it take to identify and train a small army of language workers?  How could the recordings they collect be accessible to people who don't speak the language?  My answer to this question is linked below – but spend a moment thinking how you might do this before looking.  One inspiration for this work was Mark Liberman's talk The problems of scale in language documentation at the Texas Linguistics Society meeting in 2006, in a workshop on Computational Linguistics for Less-Studied Languages.  Another inspiration was observing the enthusiasm of the remaining speakers of the Usarufa language to maintain their language (see this earlier post).  About 9 months ago, I decided to ask Olympus if they would give me 100 of their latest model digital voice recorders.  They did, and the BOLD:PNG Project starts next week.  Please sign the guestbook on that site, or post a comment here, if you'd like to encourage the speakers of these languages who are getting involved in this new project.

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