Archive for Endangered languages

Treasure language

A talk at Darwin University by Steven Bird:

With thousands of languages in danger of disappearing, should we redouble our efforts to "save" them? Or could we open ourselves to the stories, lives, and world views of the people who speak the smaller languages around us? Steven Bird, computer scientist and linguist, draws on unconventional sources of wisdom to suggest concrete actions for us to take, and inspires us to believe we can alter the future course of language evolution.

Steven has journeyed to some of the remotest places in Africa, Melanesia, Central Asia, and Amazonia to record speakers of the world’s treasure languages. He is visiting Darwin, a hot spot of linguistic diversity and language endangerment, to explore new ways to keep languages strong. Steven has held academic positions at the universities of Edinburgh, Pennsylvania, Melbourne, and Berkeley. He is currently a visiting professor at Charles Darwin University.


Crowdsourcing Language Revitalization

We often hear of projects for revitalizing or documenting endangered languages obtaining grants, but the Tahltan Language Conservation Initiative folks have a new approach: crowdsourcing. Here is their appeal at Indiegogo, better known as a way of funding technology projects. The rewards that contributors can obtain are materials produced by the project.

Comments (2)

Treasure Language

Steven Bird writes:

After researching some alternatives, I'm trying to get "treasure language" adopted as a way of talking about disappearing or threatened or dying languages. I'm creating a new kind of storytelling event that brings immigrant/diaspora and indigenous communities together.

The first event is scheduled in less than two weeks in Oakland, and features storytelling and word games in Tigrigna, lu Mien, and other small languages spoken in Oakland.

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (4)

Fake account spotting on Facebook

One language-related story in the British press over the weekend was that Gavin McGowan was threatened by Facebook with having his account shut down… because they said his name was fake.

About ten years ago Gavin learned some Scottish Gaelic and started using the Gaelic spelling of his name: Gabhan Mac A Ghobhainn. Facebook is apparently running software designed to spot bogus accounts on the basis of the letter-strings used to name them. Gabhan's name evidently failed the test.

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (36)

Don't even know the rules of their own language

Bob Ladd points out that a commenter ("RobbieLePop") on a Guardian article about Prince Charles (the opinionated prince who is destined to inherit the throne under Britain's hereditary monarchical and theocratic system of government) said this:

The moment the Monarchy, with he at its head, begins a campaign of public influence is the moment the Monarchy should be disbanded.

With he at its head ? Let's face it, the traditionally accepted rules for case-marking pronouns in English are simply a mystery to many speakers.

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments off

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.


Comments off

"Chinese" well beyond Mandarin

A topic which I have raised here and elsewhere a number of times is that of Sinitic topolects and languages (, 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.

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (13)

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.

Comments (5)

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.

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (27)

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.

Comments (3)

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.)

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (66)

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.

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (20)

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.

Comments (2)