Preserving Languages with Technology

Facebook. YouTube. Texting. Just a few of the new technologies that are working to preserve indigenous languages online.

With these advances in technology, many groups are utilizing social media to engage younger members of the community. For example, one tribe that speaks Tuvan, an indigenous language spoken by nomads in Siberia and Mongolia, uses an iPhone application to teach students how to pronounce particular words.

"It's what I like to call the flipside of globalization. We hear a lot about how globalization exerts negative pressures on small cultures to assimilate. But a positive effect of globalization is that you can have a language that is spoken by only five or 50 people in one remote location, and now through digital technology that language can achieve a global voice and a global audience,” said K David Harrison, an associate professor of linguistics at Swarthmore College and a National Geographic Fellow, in an article by the BBC.

Another group has used audio recordings by native speakers to publish talking dictionaries. All the audio recordings have been made by native speakers, some of whom like Alfred "Bud" Lane are among the last fluent individuals in their native tongues. Lane speaks Siletz Dee-ni, a language restricted to an area in the central coast of Oregon.

"Linguists came in and labeled our language moribund, meaning it was heading for the ash heap of history; and our tribal people and our council decided that wasn't going to happen. So we devised a plan to go forward to start teaching our dialect here in the Siletz Valley," commented Lane in an article by the BBC.

Language experts like Professor Margaret Noori, an expert in Native American studies at the University of Michigan, have lauded the use of technology in saving indigenous languages.

"What we do with technology is try to connect people," said Noori in the BBC article. "All of it is to keep the language."

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