“Talking dictionary” could help dying languages survive: Canada’s Inuit leading the way

Via Scoop.itNunavut
[excerpt] February 19, 2012 – 9:06 am“Talking dictionary” could help dying languages survive Inuit in Canada’s north are leading the way, meeting hears SPECIAL TO NUNATSIAQ NEWSMARGARET MUNRO
Postmedia News VANCOUVER — Bud Lane III is believed to be one of the last few people on the planet fluent in the aboriginal language Siletz-Dee-ni. His language, spoken by a small aboriginal community in Oregon, is teetering on the brink of extinction. But it has now been immortalized in Lane’s soothing voice in a “talking dictionary” — one of eight unveiled here Friday at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. Lane, who spoke to the media briefing Friday by phone from Oregon, said he will never forget the day experts came to his community in the 1980s and labelled the language “morbid.” He said the community has been working ever since to revive the language. The talking dictionaries — one from Siberia even has a smartphone app — are giving the languages unprecedented reach and, it is hoped, a better chance at survival. The world is facing a crisis of language extinction, researchers said. Of the nearly 7,000 languages spoken today, they predict half may be gone by the end of the century. The researchers said that the loss to humanity goes beyond the death of a language. “Linguistic diversity is one of the most important parts of our human heritage,” said David Harrison, an endangered language expert at Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania, who co-leads the talking dictionaries project. He and his colleagues said languages give invaluable insight into history, culture and how the brain functions. Many communities are embracing technology — the Internet, YouTube, social media, text messaging — as a way to save their languages. The Inuit in Canada’s north are, in many respects, leading the way. Microsoft programs have been translated into Inuktitut, enabling young and old to flip on their computers and communicate in their language, Leena Evic, executive director of the Pirurvik Centre for Inuit Language in Iqaluit, told the conference. She said there are also online learning tools and a new smartphone app that now enable people “anywhere on the planet” to access Inuktitut, which is spoken by 30,000 people in the north. […]  
Via www.nunatsiaqonline.ca

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