‘Talking dictionaries’ to preserve vanishing languages

February 19th, 2012 - 5:49 pm ICT by IANS  

National Geographic Washington, Feb 19 (IANS) To save the more than 7,000 languages spoken on our planet today from going in to oblivion by the end of this century, Linguists from the National Geographic’s ‘Enduring voices’ have come up with the idea of ‘walking dictionaries’.

National Geographic Fellows K. David Harrison and Gregory Anderson, the linguists who are creating them, say that in some cases it is for the first time that the language has been recorded or written anywhere, according to a National Geographic statement.

Harrison, associate professor of linguistics at Swarthmore College, and Anderson, president of the Living Tongues Institute for Endangered Languages, have travelled to some of earth’s remotest corners, visiting language hotspots and seeking out the last speakers of vanishing languages.

Harrison unveiled eight new talking dictionaries. They contain more than 32,000 word entries in eight endangered languages, more than 24,000 audio recordings of native speakers pronouncing words and sentences, and photographs of cultural objects.

“Endangered language communities are adopting digital technology to aid their survival and to make their voices heard around the world,” Harrison said. “This is a positive effect of globalization.”

These findings were presented at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) in Vancouver, British Columbia on Friday.

The AAAS meeting featured a panel on using digital tools to save languages that included Alfred “Bud” Lane, among the last known fluent speakers of the Native American language known as ‘Siletz Dee-ni’, spoken in Oregon.

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