Tuesday, 3 December 2013

Only 4% of Languages are used online.

In Only 4% of Languages are used online, Priceonomics reports on the paper  “Digital Language Death”, by Andreas Kornai.

The article mentions that the internet is a potential threat to many languages.  If a language is unused in this domain, it may suffer a loss of function and prestige.

It makes an interesting point that the internet situation is not a normal case of language decline, but the reverse:  whether languages will  "establish themselves as viable options for digital use."

In investigating online language use, the article states:   "A language’s Wikipedia presence was one of the most important indicators of its ability to leap into the digital age."   Which is interesting, considering that Even Hindi Falls Behind.

Saturday, 27 April 2013

Star Wars to be dubbed into Navajo.

In "Luke, I am your bizhe'e:", The Telegraph reports on a project to dub the original Star Wars film into Navajo.

The article mentions some of the challenges of translating novel sci-fi concepts, and draws parallels with the efforts of  Code Talkers to coin appropriate terms for WWII concepts such as tanks and grenades.

The project is funded by the Navajo Parks and Recreation Department.

Sunday, 22 April 2012

Guardian reports on Awá genocide.

In 'They're killing us': world's most endangered tribe cries for help, Gethin Chamberlain of The Observer reports on the plight of the Awá people, and the related upcoming Survival International campaign.

The article states that it is not just the removal of the forest that is threatening the Awá and their way of life, but also that "Hired gunmen – known as pistoleros – are reported to be hunting Awá who have stood in the way of land-grabbers"

Though their language is not mentioned, the number "355", given as the "number of surviving members". This corresponds well with the Ethnologue and UNESCO records of 370 and 283 speakers of Guaja speakers.

Wednesday, 28 March 2012

machine translation for minority languages

In Mash-up aids translation of obscure languages New Scientist describes a project from Universidad Politécnica de Valencia to extend machine translation to "minority languages".

The intent is to create translations which are "unlikely to be grammatically correct, and may contain unusual spellings, but it should be understandable to a minority language speaker" by choosing words from related languages for which machine translators are available.

The article reports on a test in which content was translated from Swedish to Spanish in this fashion, and that the authors "plan to test the system with a minority language, even though it is often hard to find native speakers to take part in experiments."

According to the article, David Yarowsky, of Johns Hopkins University says that "the rise of the internet means that languages with less than a million speakers will struggle to survive."

Thursday, 24 November 2011

Even Hindi falls behind

In Wikipedia woos India with local languages , The Hindustan times reports on WikiConference India 2011.

Though the article only mentions major Indian languages, rather than any of the 197 languages of India listed in the Unesco Atlas, I thought that the following paragraph was notable in the scope of this blog.

Wales said that the Indian page editors have experienced technical complications due to the lack of digital archiving and difficulty in accessing keyboards enabled with regional script. “The number of Indian language pages on Wikipedia is very small compared to the number of people who speak the language,” said Wales. “Globally, there are more than 35,000 Wikipedians, who make at least five edits on the English page everyday. However, in terms of numbers, the Hindi page is far behind with barely 50 Wikipedians making five edits daily,” he added.

In Wikipedia, we have a major international and multilingual resource; but even Hindi, with 180 Million speakers falls way behind English, due to differences in internet penetration and a Latin bias in computer hardware.

Friday, 18 November 2011

BBC and Independent report on Andaman dictionary

In First Andaman dictionary a 'linguistic treasure trove', Alastair Lawson reports on Prof. Anvita Abbi's  forthcoming Multilingual Dictionary of Great Andamanese, containing content from Bo, Khora, Jeru, and Sare.

The article emphasises the age of the Andamanese culture and languages.  There is also a short piece of audio content, playing some Andamanese words and phrases, alongside their English equivalents

In Breathing Life into a Dying Language , The Independent also reports on the same story.  It's emphasis is on the death last year of Boa Sr, the last speaker of Bo.

Saturday, 22 October 2011

Last of the Manchus

In The last of the Manchus: Et tu Manchu,The Economist reports on the decline of the Manchu language from "National Language of a vast empire" to near extinction in just a century, putting a human face on the decline in the form of Ms Zhao, one of the only two fluent speakers of Manchu in her village.  The decline turns out not to be so rapid, as 100 years ago, it wasn't as widely spoken as the opening line implies.  However, the report does raise some important points:

  1. Opression can cause language loss:
    • As the "language of the oppressors", the decline was accelerated by the revolution in China, when "Hundreds if not thousands of Manchu civilians" were "were massacred during the revolution by vengeful Han troops".  At the same time, many Manchu would have stopped speaking the language to avoid punishment.
  2. Language death can lead to a loss of history, even in a literate society: 
    • "2m out of 10m Qing documents in the country’s collection are written in Manchu."
  3. Reporting on speaker numbers is difficult, the article states that Ms Zhao is one of the last two fluent speakers in her village.
    • According to the article, " In 1979 there were 50 fluent speakers left"
    • Ethnologue reports that there were 60 speakers in 1999,
    • UNESCO Atlas gives a "compromise figure" of 10, with no date on that statistic.
  4. Language revitalisation projects can be too late:
    • "About six years ago Sanjiazi set up the country’s first Manchu school. But Ms Zhao does not think this will make much difference. The Manchu teachers, she says, do not understand her Manchu"