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This article was published 17/2/2012 (2014 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
VANCOUVER - Linguists at National Geographic are taking the digital route in their efforts to both document and help preserve endangered languages.
Eight new talking dictionaries were unveiled at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Vancouver on Friday.
The dictionaries contain more than 32,000 word entries in eight endangered languages. They comprise more than 24,000 audio recordings of native speakers pronouncing words and sentences, along with photos of cultural objects.
Among the participants on a panel about the use of digital tools at the AAAS meeting was Alfred (Bud) Lane, among the last known fluent speakers of Siletz Dee-ni, a Native American language spoken in Oregon. Lane has written that the talking dictionary is — and will be — one of the best resources in the struggle to keep his language alive.
The talking dictionaries are a part of National Geographic's Enduring Voices project and are being created by linguists and National Geographic Fellows K. David Harrison and Gregory Anderson.
The duo says that their documentation of the languages represents the first time some of them have been recorded or written anywhere. The speakers and their threatened cultural heritage are captured in photos by National Geographic Fellow Chris Rainier.
In 2010, Harrison and Anderson announced with National Geographic the first documentation of Koro, a language spoken by only a few hundred people in northeastern India.
Harrison, an associate professor of linguistics at Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania, and Anderson, president of the Living Tongues Institute for Endangered Languages in Oregon, have travelled to some of the world's most remote locations to help preserve the fading languages, seeking out some of the last speakers of the endangered tongues.
The newly unveiled talking dictionaries include:
— Matukar Panau, an Oceanic language of Papua New Guinea, where only 600 speakers remain inhabiting two small villages;
— Chamacoco, a highly endangered language of Paraguay's remote northern desert still spoken by about 1,200 people;
— Remo, a highly endangered and poorly documented language of India;
— Sora, a tribal language of India under pressure to assimilate;
— Ho, a tribal language of India with about a million speakers but under pressure from more prevalent tongues. Traditional Ho script can't yet be typed on computers, so the project is petitioning the Unicode consortium for its addition;
—Tuvan, an indigenous tongue spoken by nomadic peoples in Siberia and Mongolia.
An eighth dictionary is dedicated to Celtic tongues. Additional talking dictionaries are in production.
"Endangered language communities are adopting digital technology to aid their survival and to make their voices heard around the world," Harrison said in a release. "This is a positive effect of globalization."
National Geographic's Enduring Voices: http://travel.nationalgeographic.com/travel/enduring-voices/