Technology and Language Revitalization: A Conspectus
Increasingly the world’s indigenous people are recognizing the value of using digital environments in the battle against the extinction of their languages and cultures (Hermes & King 2013). Likewise as indigenous languages become increasingly visible on the internet, perceptions of them as antiquated, irrelevant or anachronistic in the Information Age are being challenged. Thanks to sites such as http://www.languagegeek.com/ which provide freely downloadable keyboard layouts, typography and diacritical markings, the digitization of the scripts of many of the world’s indigenous languages is now possible.
Let’s step back and examine the use of technology in language revitalization efforts through its contributions to: documentation, production/distribution, facilitation and connection. Its effectiveness can be measured by considering its role in meeting the following four objectives:
- Documentation of endangered languages with voice recordings and geographical mapping in databases (i.e. www.livingtongues.org)
- Production / distribution of indigenous language learning materials for purchase and/or downloading (i.e. http://ojibwemowinlanguage.com/)
- Facilitation of independent learning through individual lessons, videos and gaming (i.e. http://www.nativetech.org/games/ojibwemowin/)
- Connection of teachers with learners in virtual classrooms, through Skype, and online or blended learning courses (i.e. http://www.bluequills.ca/language-bundle/).
I believe that the examples I will provide below constitute solid evidence that we are using technology well in accomplishing the first three goals, but we’ve been less innovative when it comes to the fourth: connecting fluent speakers with potential students for synchronous online language lessons. In particular I am referring to the implementation of e-learning, distance education, MOOCs, or hybrid courses that connect teachers and learners across time zones and geographical distance in virtual classrooms. (Two noteworthy exceptions are the Cherokee Nation’s online language classes which use Adobe Connect’s videoconferencing platform (https://www.cherokee.org/AboutTheNation/Language/…), and the A-mowin Virtual Cree Classes which use MeetCheap’s platform (http://www.learncreeonline. blogspot.ca/).
The virtual classroom is a widely used forum internationally by would-be speakers of colonial languages, but it is under-used within an indigenous framework. I am seeking partners in linguistic communities and indigenous educational institutions who wish to explore this untapped potential further. Please contact me (Allyson Eamer) for research and/or networking purposes.
Meanwhile with respect to the first three objectives, I have prepared a brief overview of some of the affordances that digital technology provides through mobile learning apps and other digital resources. Listed, by continent, you will see some of the technologies being implemented in the fight against language extinction. For the purpose of brevity, I will touch on only a few of the endangered languages in each region. A far more comprehensive study of the technologies currently in use for indigenous language education can be found on my curated content site (http://www.scoop.it/t/indigenous-language-education-and-technology).
- The Norwegian North Sàmi language has been programmed into downloadable dictionaries (http://giellatekno.uit.no/words/dicts/).
- Gaelic bloggers are sharing tips on the use of the Irish language (http://blogs.transparent.com/irish/).
- Students of Manx, the indigenous language of Isle of Man, are using smart phone and tablet apps to improve their proficiency (http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-isle-of-man-20392723).
- A CD ROM self-study course has been developed in Navajo which is spoken in the South-West U.S.(http://shop.multilingualbooks.com/collections/navajo/talk-now).
- Learners of Cherokee (spoken in the South-Central U.S.) can communicate within a virtual world (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tmP17acPYCE).
- The Ojibwe of Manitoba, Canada are using an iPhone app to revitalize their language (http://fner.wordpress.com/2012/03/28/ojibway-language-iphone…) as are the Winnebago in the Mid-West U.S. (http://bigstory.ap.org/article/save-endangered-languages-tribes-turn-tech).
- Orthographies and databases are being developed for oral languages in Kenya (Wamalwa and Ouloch 2013).
- Ancient stories are being recorded in the indigenous languages of Mali (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GHB-yMoDhYo).
- An online language learning company (http://www.busuu.com) is offering a course in the whistle language of the Canary Islands (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jkGwzFYj6dE).
Central and South America
- Ground breaking language documentation of the Kĩsêdjê language is being done in Brazil (http://web.mit.edu/newsoffice/2013/student-profile-rafael-nonato-0722.html).
- A talking dictionary of the Pipil language of El Salvador has been developed (http://talkingdictionary.swarthmore.edu/pipil/).
- Recordings of personal narratives of the Aché people in Paraguay are being made (http://dobes.mpi.nl/projects/ache/project/).
- Digital storytelling software now includes some of the minority languages of China (http://www.chinasmack.com/2013/stories/phonemica…).
- Lessons in the Tajik language of Uzbekistan are now available on YouTube (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iWlSuuGMMbc).
- Seven hundred and eighty previously undocumented languages in India have now been mapped (http://www.livemint.com/Leisure/Jnwhm6vGQfNtTfNgbL9j4O/Ganesh-Devy…).
- Asynchronous online lessons are available in Inuktitut, one of the languages of the Arctic (http://www.tusaalanga.ca/lesson/lessons).
- Online storytelling in Chaldean, spoken in Iraq, can help speakers achieve fluency (http://elalliance.org/projects/languages-of-the-middle-east/neo-aramaic/).
- Indigenous sign language from Central Australia can now be learned via online videos (http://iltyemiltyem.com/sign/).
- An online dictionary has been created for the Rapa Nui language of Easter Island (Makihara, 2004)
- Digital storytelling in Pacific Island languages are available at http://italklibrary.com
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Hermes, M., & King, K. A. (2013). Ojibwe language revitalization, multimedia technology, and family language learning. Language, Learning & Technology, 17(1).
Makihara, M. (2004). Linguistic Syncretism and Language Ideologies: Transforming Sociolinguistic Hierarchy on Rapa Nui (Easter Island) American Anthropologist, 106(3), 529-540.
Wamalwa, E. and Ouloch, S. (2013). Language Endangerment and Language Maintenance: Can Endangered Indigenous Languages of Kenya Be Electronically Preserved. International Journal of Humanities and Social Science 3(7), 258-266.