- Created on Monday, 06 May 2013 19:08
Put those computer skills to use.
In this post I aim to highlight an occasionally overlooked tour de force for language development – Computer Technologists. Technology revolutionized language development in the latter part of the twentieth century. As we cruise into the twenty-first century, it is a certainty that the impact of technology will continue to increase. Major internet powerhouses and corporations are getting in on the action.
A salient example is Google’s announcement in June 2012 about their plan to start the Endangered Languages Project, a website for people to find and share the most up-to-date and comprehensive information about endangered languages. The Google blog describes the purpose of the project as follows:
"Documenting the 3,000+ languages that are on the verge of extinction (about half of all languages in the world) is an important step in preserving cultural diversity, honouring the knowledge of our elders and empowering our youth. Technology can strengthen these efforts by helping people create high-quality recordings of their elders (often the last speakers of a language), connecting diaspora communities through social media and facilitating language learning." 
Google continued its support of language development this spring with its launch of Gmail in the endangered language of Cherokee (Gmail’s 57th language). The internet company also developed a Sign Language Interpreter application for Hang-outs as well as accessibility features for Gmail, Drive and Chrome.
Internet mogul Microsoft is also supporting the use of Cherokee with its release of Windows 8 in the language earlier this year. The Harvard Business Review blog commented, “Just a decade ago, this Native American language (Cherokee) had no speakers under the age of 40 with conversational fluency. Today, it has a speaker base of around 16,000 people.” In the past decade, tribal leaders and language advocates have initiated early childhood education in Cherokee as a core strategy in efforts to revitalize the language.
Considered together with the language’s inclusion in modern technologies, these efforts show a positive trend towards reclaiming the language.
Closer to home, computer technology presents benefits for every area of linguistics. At CanIL, we rely on certain programs every day. It is impossible to study here for long without becoming acquainted with FieldWorks Language Exporer (FLEx) and Translator’s Workplace. FLEx builds and organizes an electronic dictionary, including components of words. The program then utilizes this dictionary to analyze sentences, paragraphs, and stories. Translator’s Workplace is a collection of reference books on DVD for Bible translators, including original-language texts, commentaries, dictionaries, and maps. Other programs that aid our work include Speech Analyzer and Phonology Assistant, which capture and analyze sounds. Our linguistic forerunners catalogued all of their data by hand and devised innovative filing systems (such as shoe boxes) to organize what was usually the work of many years or decades. The aforementioned computer programs are indispensable to the field of linguistics for the time they redeem and the accuracy that they ameliorate.
Literacy workers know that a generous availability of reading material is required if a literacy program in a given language is to be successful long-term. Our resident webmaster has developed a program called SynPhony, which can produce high quality literacy materials in any alphabetically written language on earth! The best part is that it’s free and you don’t need to be a computer genius to use it. Other programs that streamline the task of literacy materials development include Bloom, Shell Books, and Water Droplet. The tag-line for Bloom says it all: “let’s grow a library.”
Computer technology has truly revolutionized linguistics, including field work, translation, and literacy. We are grateful for the computer experts at CanIL who ensure the smooth operation of the systems that facilitate so much of what we do. They often work behind the scenes, providing invaluable IT support to the CanIL community here, as well as to linguistic field workers who submit inquiries from around the world. The linguistic field will always need the support of IT people, including network administrators, software and hardware consultants and developers, product testers, and web masters. Your IT skills have much to offer within the world of language development.
- Created on Monday, 22 April 2013 11:45
If you’ve ever studied Syntax and Semantics then you’re probably familiar with the sentence, “Colourless green ideas sleep furiously.” The sentence was famously presented by Chomsky as a great example of a series of words randomly strung together. It is typically presented by Linguistics professors as a catalyst for debate about whether language and meaning are axiomatically interdependent.
“The study of language without meaning is meaningless.” - Roman Jakobson (1896-1982)
The sentence “colourless green ideas sleep furiously” is grammatical according to lexical classification. However, it is nonsense on a semantic level… or so goes the claim. Is this claim correct?
- Created on Thursday, 11 April 2013 22:04
Hi, my name’s Shannon, and I’m a Master’s of Linguistics student at CanIL. I’m set to finish my degree this summer (2013). Last summer, I went to Cambodia to teach English at Place of Rescue, an orphanage and AIDS refuge center near Phnom Penh. This is my story.
- Created on Monday, 18 March 2013 21:24
Ian graduated in 2008 from of our Master’s of Linguistics and Exegesis (MLE) program. He spent two years helping with language development overseas, and is now working remotely with co-workers on the other side of the globe to help SE Asian minority language communities plan the future of their own languages. In his own words:
"As minority language communities face modern development and urbanization, their traditional ways of life, especially the use of their own language, often give way to mainstream life styles, cultures, and languages. Through language development planning, they can preserve language records for future generations, unite their community through language, sustain the use of their language for various communication needs, and develop language resources to read, write, and learn in ways that work best for them."
- Created on Monday, 04 March 2013 20:02
In April 2011 Sara was a new BA Linguistics graduate from CanIL, eager to use her newly learned skills. In June 2011, Sara visited a cluster project in Nepal, where she explored the possibility of a longer term commitment to do language work in the area. The following summer, Sara moved to Nepal for an initial commitment of two years and began to settle in to her role in pre-literacy development for a minority language group. In her December 2012 letter, she described an orthography development workshop that included speakers of the language in the production of their own alphabet. Her description is a snapshot of what pre-literacy work for a language entails.