How technology is helping endangered languages

Posts19Likes13Joined1/6/2020LocationLondon / GB
Native
Chechen
Learning Arabic - Standard, English, French, German, Russian

Hey team,


Time for another post. Today, we're looking at how people use technology to help endangered languages. Technological solutions are unlikely to suffice for saving what amounts to half of the 7,000 languages spoken on the planet, and we'll look at other approaches in the future, but it is undeniable that technology has a role to play. Here are a few examples of such solutions, developed by whole organizations or one-person teams. 


  • The Endangered Language Project "puts technology at the service of the organizations and individuals working to confront the language endangerment by documenting, preserving and teaching them". We're mentioning the ELP here, but they deserve a separate blog post. 
  • Apertium is an open-source translation engine with a focus on minority languages. In contrast to Google Translate or DeepL, Apertium's translations are rule-based (so the classical approach, based on dictionaries and grammar rules), as endangered languages seldom provide enough written material to train neural networks. 
  • Obvious in hindsight: one way to keep rare languages alive today is to make sure they're supported by keyboards. The Summer Institute for Linguistics, a non-profit who counts endangered language development as one of its goals, has an answer: Keyman provides keyboard layouts for most languages, on any device, and allows you to create one for your language if it's missing. It already supports Cheyenne, Tibetan, and Dinka, among others. The SIL also has a tool to help speakers of endangered languages build their own dictionaries
  • This huge repository gathers information and resources about technology-based efforts for documenting, conserving, developing, preserving, or working with endangered languages. 
  • Finally, here's Mob Translate, an open source project initiated by an Aboriginal developer who's aiming to create an online translation tool for Aboriginal languages, starting with the language of his own tribe. A commendable endeavour!

Hope you're all having a nice weekend!


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#1
Posts32Likes20Joined26/12/2019LocationBE
Native
French
Learning Dutch, English

Very interesting. Thank you for the links.

I will probably never learn one of those endangered languages. 

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#2
Posts19Likes13Joined1/6/2020LocationLondon / GB
Native
Chechen
Learning Arabic - Standard, English, French, German, Russian

Michel wrote:
Very interesting. Thank you for the links.
I will probably never learn one of those endangered languages.


Cheers!


That's the problem with endangered languages: there aren't enough incentives to learn them (there can even be strong disincentives). I see you're from Belgium though: chances are you know people who speak an endangered language, as a (very unscientific) estimate based on this data tells me that 5-10% of the population in your country speaks one. I'm from neighbouring France, where Breton, at least, is having a strong revival. 

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#3
Posts32Likes20Joined26/12/2019LocationBE
Native
French
Learning Dutch, English

So they learn Breton, next step is losing French and then war because they can't communicate with neighbours.

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#4
Posts19Likes13Joined1/6/2020LocationLondon / GB
Native
Chechen
Learning Arabic - Standard, English, French, German, Russian

We obviously all interpret history, geopolitics, culture, etc., differently, and extrapolate differently, but I wouldn't say that such an extreme scenario is likely, for a number of factors. 

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#5
Posts1Likes1Joined2/12/2018Location
Native
English
Other French, German, Korean

Hey Soup!  

Have you looked into religious groups, like Wycliffe Bible Translators? They are doing amazing things for endangered languages.

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#6
Posts19Likes13Joined1/6/2020LocationLondon / GB
Native
Chechen
Learning Arabic - Standard, English, French, German, Russian

Hey zakenney, thanks for the tip, they seem to be doing cool work indeed! Found similar efforts in other religions as well, I’ll be sure to include this into the post about non-tech-based conservation efforts, cheers!

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#7
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