Technology and Language Revitalization: A Conspectus

allyson-eamer-articleIncreasingly 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:

  1. Documentation of endangered languages with voice recordings and geographical mapping in databases (i.e. www.livingtongues.org)
  2. Production / distribution of indigenous language learning materials for purchase and/or downloading (i.e. http://ojibwemowinlanguage.com/)
  3. Facilitation of independent learning through individual lessons, videos and gaming (i.e. http://www.nativetech.org/games/ojibwemowin/)
  4. 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).

Europe

North America

Africa

 Central and South America

Asia

Arctic

Middle East

Pacific

  • 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

References

Fishman, J.A. (1994). The truth about language and culture and a note about its relevance to the Jewish case. International Journal of the Sociology of Language, 109,  83-96.

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.

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