Digital tools ‘to save languages’

Công cụ số giúp ‘cứu sống’ ngôn ngữ

18 February 2012 Last updated at 10:18 ET

By Jonathan Amos Science correspondent, BBC News, Vancouver
Bài của Jonathan Amos, phóng viên khoa học BBC News, Vancouver

Facebook, YouTube and even texting will be the salvation of (sự cứu vớt) many of the world’s endangered languages (các ngôn ngữ đang có nguy cơ bị mai một), scientists believe.

Of the 7,000 or so languages spoken on Earth today, about half are expected to be extinct (bị tuyệt diệt)  by the century’s end.

Globalisation is usually blamed (bị kết tội, cho là thủ phạm), but some elements of the “modern world”, especially digital technology, are pushing back against the tide (đang đẩy lui lại xu thế này).

North American tribes use social media to re-engage (tái hòa nhập) their young (đám con trẻ), for example.

Tuvan, an indigenous tongue (một ngôn ngữ bản địa) spoken by nomadic peoples (dân du mục) in Siberia and Mongolia, even has an iPhone app to teach the pronunciation of words to new students.

“Small languages are using social media, YouTube, text messaging (nhắn tin) and various technologies to expand their voice (tiếng nói) and expand their presence,” said K David Harrison, an associate professor of linguistics (giáo sư ngôn ngữ học) at Swarthmore College and a National Geographic Fellow.

“It’s what I like to call the flipside of (mặt tốt) globalisation. We hear a lot about how globalisation exerts negative pressures on small cultures to assimilate (). But a positive effect of globalisation 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.” ()

Harrison, who travels the world to seek out the last speakers of vanishing languages (những ngôn ngữ đang biến mất dần), has been describing his work here at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS).

With National Geographic, he has just helped produce eight talking dictionaries ().

These dictionaries contain more than 32,000 word entries in eight endangered languages. 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 (ngôn ngữ bản xứ).

Mr Lane speaks a language known as Siletz Dee-ni, which is restricted to a small area on the central Oregon coast.

“Linguists came in and labelled our language moribund (sắp suy tàn), 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  (thổ ngữ) here in the Siletz Valley,” he told the meeting.

Mr Lane has sat down and recorded 14,000 words for the online dictionary. “Nothing takes the place of speakers speaking to other speakers, but this bridges a gap (thu hẹp khoảng cách) that was just sorely needed in our community and our tribe (bộ lạc).”

Margaret Noori is an expert in Native American studies at the University of Michigan and a speaker of Anishinaabemowin (người nói ngôn ngữ Anishinaabemowin), which is the sovereign language of over 200 indigenous “nations” in Canada and the US. These communities are heavy users of Facebook.

“What we do with technology is try to connect people,” Prof Noori said. “All of it is to keep the language.”

Dr Harrison says not all languages can survive, and many inevitably will be lost as remaining speakers die off (chết đi). But he says the new digital tools do offer (thực sự mang lại) a way back from the brink (khỏi rơi xuống bờ vực tiêu vong) for a lot of languages that seemed doomed (từng như sắp tuyệt diệt) just a few years ago.

He told BBC News: “Everything that people know about the planet, about plants, animals, about how to live sustainably (bền vững), the polar ice caps, the different ecosystems (hệ thống sinh thái) that humans have survived in – all this knowledge is encoded in human cultures and languages, whereas only a tiny fraction of it is encoded  in (được mã hóa vào) the scientific literature (các văn liệu khoa học).

“If we care about sustainability and survival on the planet, we all benefit from having this (làm cho) knowledge base (cơ sở kiến thức) persevered  (được bảo tồn).”

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