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Share your stories

You can use these questions to help kick off this discussion thread:

  • How have you used new technologies and web 2.0 tools to use and promote underrepresented languages online?
  • What tools did you use?  Skype, blogs, twitter, mobile phones?
  • How did these tactics fit into your larger strategy?  
  • What lessons did you learn that can be passed along to other practitioners?

Share your experiences, thoughts, ideas and questions by adding a comment below or replying to an existing comment!

Providing understandable Nishnaabe-language web video

Our Nishnaabe people tend to live in dispersed areas on both sides of the colonial Canada-USA border. Additionally, and very sadly, the number of our first-speakers, nearly all of whom are elderly, is decreasing at an alarming rate. It is thus quite difficult for our Nishnaabe people to receive sufficient and effective 'physically-present' language instruction.

So, in the Spring of 2011, Barbara Nolan and I started a company, barbaranolan.com, in order to provide our communities with understandable Nishnaabe-language web video. (Please note: Our Nishnaabe language may sometimes be referred to as 'Ojibwe,' 'Odawa,' or 'Potawatomi.')

By "understandable," we mean that a viewer of our videos can get the general meaning of the story without resorting to translation; context, facial expressions, body motions, stuffed animals, and costumes, for example, all reveal the meaning of otherwise incomprehensible language. Our personal experience of the last nine years designing and implementing language immersion programs, training first-speakers of our language in the art and science of delivering understandable language, as well as in my own personal experience of having become a second-language speaker of our Nishnaabe language, strongly suggests to us that language students, by 'simply' experiencing many hours of understandable, contextual language input, are quite capable of becoming understanders of the language.

The subsequent journey from being an understander of the language to becoming a speaker of the language may or may not be augmented with formal language structure training. In this second part of the journey, though, again, experiencing a sufficient quantity and quality of understandable, contextual language input remains, in our opinion, a key ingredient in determining whether one will ultimately become a speaker of the language. It is this very ingredient of understandability (which we view as necessary, though perhaps insufficient, to becoming a speaker of the language) which we aim to continue to provide via our language videos.

The tools/skills we're utilizing in the provision of our videos are:

  • A basic website (we chose self-hosted WordPress);
  • Some web-development programming skills (JavaScript, PHP, MySQL);
  • A video hosting provider (we're currently using YouTube);
  • A working-knowledge of both Twitter and Facebook;
  • Lots of video production equipment and know-how. We feel that learning about video editing, RAID arrays, codecs and compression rates, microphones, studio sound acoustics, studio lighting, and purchasing an appropriate video camera can be very overwhelming to those of us who are new to video production. Trial-and-error was, and still is, for us, an inherent part of this technical, video-production side of our venture.

We've learned many lessons from our experiences. (Mistakes are such wonderful teachers! lol) We'd like to share with you what we view as one of our most important lessons. As Barbara and I continue to strive to provide an increasing number of our first-speakers with the knowledge and skills to deliver understandable language, it has become increasingly clear to us that many (most?) first-speakers are not at all intuitively comfortable with delivering understandable language. While the concept of 'teaching' formal language structure is well-known and widely accepted by our first-speakers, this new concept (perhaps less than 50-years-old) of delivering understandable language is almost always at first shunned by them. Therefore, for Barbara and I, delivering understandable language video is ultimately about the ability to facilitate a change in a community's thinking about how language ability is transferred from one individual to another, and not so much about the theoretical details of a particular approach to language. We cannot overstate this point.

We hope that our experiences will assist you in revitalizing your community's language(s). Barbara and I are always interested in your thoughts, insights, and suggestions concerning our efforts. We look forward to your helpful replies and comments.

"Understandable language"

This is SO IMPORTANT.  It falls directly in line with what second-language pedagogy has been doing for the past several years: you have to provide comprehensible input for your students and allow them to get the meaning of things based on the context.  That way you don't have to rely on translation, and the students are able to absorb the language "wholesale." Then when you ask them to use it themselves, they use it correctly in the way that they have heard (ideally).  What I usually do after modelling and asking them to use it in context with each other is to give an explanation of what we've just done, for a little more grammatical understanding.  (I currently teach Dutch, but I aspire to use this method with Cherokee) Then I have them use it more.  I think it's important to have multiple sets of ways to understand what you're learning: context, experience, translation/note-taking (at home - not in the class), and grammar.  Sounds like you all are doing great work!

Really like your term "wholesale" :)

BFrey wrote:
This is SO IMPORTANT.  It falls directly in line with what second-language pedagogy has been doing for the past several years: you have to provide comprehensible input for your students and allow them to get the meaning of things based on the context.  That way you don't have to rely on translation, and the students are able to absorb the language "wholesale."

Indeed! We strongly agree that "wholesale" understanding of a speaker's meaning, getting the jist of the story, is an incredibly critical part of becoming a speaker. We view it as essential for the continued survival and revitalization of our Nishnaabe language. Sadly, however, we continue to witness the absence of contextual, understandable language in so many of our language programs. Perhaps Barbara and I could address this last point in a separate post in this discussion.

BFrey wrote:
Sounds like you all are doing great work!

Thank you so much for your kind words and for sharing your insights!

 

JohnPaul Montano
barbaranolan.com

Challenge: resistance to language instruction methodology

jpmontano wrote:

As Barbara and I continue to strive to provide an increasing number of our first-speakers with the knowledge and skills to deliver understandable language, it has become increasingly clear to us that many (most?) first-speakers are not at all intuitively comfortable with delivering understandable language. While the concept of 'teaching' formal language structure is well-known and widely accepted by our first-speakers, this new concept (perhaps less than 50-years-old) of delivering understandable language is almost always at first shunned by them. Therefore, for Barbara and I, delivering understandable language video is ultimately about the ability to facilitate a change in a community's thinking about how language ability is transferred from one individual to another, and not so much about the theoretical details of a particular approach to language. We cannot overstate this point.

Thank you JohnPaul for sharing your story and the lessons that you have learned!  I am curious to know more about why there is this resistance within the first-speaker community to deliver understandable language.  Is it a basic resistance to change (changing the way that language is passed down to other generations)?  Or is it something more specific to this community?  It sounds like this challenge might be something that others would face in their own communities. 

Are there others in this dialogue facing similar challenges around developing effective language instruction with the help and support of first-speakers?  How have you tried to change the community thinking?

Thanks, JohnPaul! 

Making an impact on the community's thinking

Thank you for your thoughtful response to these questions, JohnPaul!  It is a great example of how a number of tactics can be used together to make an impact on the community's first-speakers. 

Have others faced similar challenges?  How did you face and overcome these challenges?

Understandable communication (audio, video, and text)


I find this discussion very exciting and I’m happy to see JPMontao here to share his experience in producing streaming videos with Barb Nolan. Their efforts make the language understandable and are much appreciated by second language learners like myself. 


As a brief introduction you should know that I am an Anishinaabe with a background in web design and multimedia streaming. From 1999-2004, I produced an Anishinaabemowin internet radio show called Aboriginal Accent. At first I shared my Ojibwe language lessons on the air with listeners. Over time, I found this rather dry and began to bring in fluent speakers who would share stories and teachings in our language on the radio. Eventually, one of my language teachers, Professor Shirley Williams developed a language guessing game (like Charades) to play on the radio where she would provide clues to the word she had in mind. Listeners would call into the radio station or send text messages to submit their answers. At the end of the season we held a drawing from all the participants for a newly published lexicon. What I learned from this experience was that while this show was a lot of fun and a great way to promote the language, we were challenged to make her message understandable to listeners who had little knowledge of Nishnaabemwin (the dialect she speaks) because we lacked the video component. Granted, we promoted this program primarily to the students enrolled in her Nishnaabemwin language courses who were familiar with the lesson she was drawing from but still we had listeners tuning in from around the world who were not familiar with the words she was using to describe the idea in her mind. Given this, I really appreciate the videos that JP Montano and Barn Nolan are sharing with our people because they bring visual and audio clues to the language student. 


Since then, I have participated in the web course: Learn Ojibwe Online. With this tool, our Ojibwe language teacher, Isadore Toulouse and Cree language instructor, Bill Cook are able to deliver their PowerPoint presentations along with audio and video input so that we can see their gestures as they speak. This has really improved my understanding, and I find it a very enjoyable way to learn. Many students look forward to the weekly classes. On the downside, we are struggling to find adequate compensation for our teachers who volunteer their time. The class is basically free. However, we are encouraged to donate $10 to offset the costs and in return we receive a copy of the video lesson. Either the students need to pay more for the lessons or we need to find funding elsewere. 


Lately, I have been working on a doctoral degree in Indigenous Studies Ph.D. program at Trent University in Peterborough Ontario Canada. My dissertation, Writing Mishipeshu: On the horns of the Anishinaabemowin standardization dilemma, explains my understanding (as informed by dozens of our language teachers and second language students) the issues we have with sharing text in multiple writing systems across dialects. Through this research, I have become concerned about our ability to sustain local dialects and communicate through text (using books, newspapers, or the internet) across communities in the future.


I am happy to have found this discussion on Citizen Media Tools, and I look forward to reading more of the ideas presented here and making new connections. Thank you.

Tessa M. Reed

Sustaining local dialects and communicating through text

Makadebinesikwe wrote:

My dissertation, Writing Mishipeshu: On the horns of the Anishinaabemowin standardization dilemma, explains my understanding (as informed by dozens of our language teachers and second language students) the issues we have with sharing text in multiple writing systems across dialects. Through this research, I have become concerned about our ability to sustain local dialects and communicate through text (using books, newspapers, or the internet) across communities in the future.

Relating specifically to Nishnaabemwin, might you be willing to elaborate on your analysis concerning our ability to sustain local dialects and to communicate through text across communities in the future?

Thanks so much for your kind words, Tessa. Barbara and I are very grateful.

 

JohnPaul Montano
barbaranolan.com

sustainability across dialects

Given that the bulk of our first-language speakers are 65+ years old and they are followed by two to three generations of English only speakers of which very few are making significant gains at becoming second-language speakers - in any dialect - this causes me to wonder about the future sustainability of multiple dialects. I think that unless our second-language learners and new speakers form communities to reinforce daily language use I don’t know how our language will survive. I place my hopes on communication via the internet but then we have to bridge our dialect divide. What will this mean? Will we shift towards one or another prominent dialect or might we merge dialects to create a new form of Anishinaabemowin?  I have my eye on the Inuit to see what they are doing. The following video, Losing Their Words, examines the controversy of this complex issue: can a pan-Inuit dialect ensure the survival of the Inuit language across the Arctic? 

Re: sustainability across dialects

Don't know whether this is helpful or applicable at all but your question reminded me of what Southwest German dialects are doing on wikipedia with each dialect having their own tab, cf. http://als.wikipedia.org/wiki/Houptsyte. That way everyone could continue their own spelling conventions and special vocabulary choice, yet present a united language.

depends...

This can go either way, and there are examples from around the world in similar situations where it worked and also where it did not work. Most second language learners who are recovering their speech without a lot of first-language speakers around them to help out will inexorably simplify dialectical variations, morphology, syntax, and phonology. Often the simplifications will be heavily influenced by patterns from their first language. 

This can I think be successful and vibrant as long as you can get buy in from the older generation - to keep speaking to 'youngsters' even if the way they speak is different. The other direction can also happen - the older generation can dig in and refuse to share in a process that they perceive as degrading the language. So you have to build consensus and excitement for the project, which I think can be done of the 'living and changing' aspect of a spoken language is emphasized. 

from little things big things grow

G'day fellow language enthusiasts,

When I decided to help the students in my class create their own podcast, I could not have imagined the type of exposure that it would eventually lead to. 

The students are Warlpiri. An Indigenous Australian group that live in a remote part of the Australian outback. Their first language is Warlpiri and the town they live in is called Lajamanu. To try to summarise their history in this post is very hard. If you are not aware of the history of the Australian Aborigine, then I recommend learning about it.

The goal of our podcast was, as most of my teaching is, honestly, the joy of learning. We wanted to have some fun with the language we were learning (English) and the language we know well (Warlpiri). It was a simple process of planning, writing, practicing and recording. The podcasts are fun to make and even more fun to listen to.

By the time we had recorded two podcasts, local media had caught on and decided to make a radio story about them. This story was eventually picked up by the national broadcaster and it was aired across the nation on national radio. The response to the story was very positive and this became a motivating factor for the students. With a larger audience than we could ever have imagined, we were now very keen to create a podcast that communicated life in a remote community for a young person.

The Warlpiri language demonstration was the greatest contributing factor to the success of the podcast. When the average Australian hears children from the desert speaking in their home language they almost certainly stop and think about the truly remarkable reality that is indigenous lives in this country. To hear a group of indigenous children confidently and creatively presenting their language in a podcast is a special thing. 

Many Australians have only a vague idea of life in remote communities. But most are aware of the challenges faced by indigenous people. So ours was a good story and, I hope, a reminder that Indigenous Australians are unique and have something special to offer. 

The podcast is recorded on an ipad using the “Now Hear This” soundbite application. The soundbite is uploaded to Radioweave. The technical aspect could not be simpler. 

From this ongoing experience, I have learnt that Indigenous Australian culture  has a large following online. It has proven that no matter how simple the approach is, it will reach an audience. Having an audience is the single greatest contributing factor to continuing with projects of this nature. The Lajamanu Champions are amazed that their lives and language are of genuine interest to other people. This is something they never could have imagined. All it took was the opportunity to do it.

Using podcasts to empower language speakers and build awareness

thanks for sharing your story, Adrian!  I must say, when I first learned about the Lajamanu Champions (a few weeks ago), I listened to every podcast on the site!  I found this reflection on the impact of these podcasts very powerful:

Adrian Trost wrote:

The Warlpiri language demonstration was the greatest contributing factor to the success of the podcast. When the average Australian hears children from the desert speaking in their home language they almost certainly stop and think about the truly remarkable reality that is indigenous lives in this country. To hear a group of indigenous children confidently and creatively presenting their language in a podcast is a special thing. 

I am not from Australia and I still found the podcasts inspiring.  There is something remarkable about actually listening to the language being spoken that really opens the listener's world to new possibilities.  The podcasts also feel interactive, somehow.  Even though the listener clicks on play to listen, passively, it feels like you as the listener is also part of this project.  So simple to put together and so powerful.  Thanks, Adrian!  I look forward to reading other stories of promoting, preserving and using languages to empower communities and educate audiences!

Adrian, What has been the

Adrian,

What has been the reaction of the wider community (i.e. adults) to the podcast? Do they get a sense of how far-reaching the podcast can be? And has there been any interest from the adults to participate in something similar? The article that we published on Rising Voices has now been translated into Malagasy, so there are people in Madagascar reading about the work of the students.  

The community

Those who have heard the podcasts have been very supportive and proud of the work. However, in recent times there has been some separation between community and school.  This has created a breakdown in communication. But currently, the school is embarking on a massive change to the way the local children are educated in the school and the role of the school in the community at large. This is opening up the communication channels once more. One major emphasis in the change is to expand the role of the school as a provider of teaching and learning for more than just school aged children. Programs that have been available for children will now be accessed by adults. The workload will be immense. The wider community online will be one of many foci. I hope to see an adult podcast, possibly a few, in the near future. But how they choose to represent themselves online is a choice they can make.

Re: from little things big things grow

An inspiring story which, to me, illustrates the sheer power of radio, arguably still the best carrier of the human voice. Podcasts and online videos are certainly important for remote communities, to be heard, maybe even seen, and hopefully actively listened to by the larger population. There are also places where remote communities are not connected to the Internet. But the local or regional languages are still healthy (with a stable or growing population and a positive attitude toward speaking their language at home or in the community), a little push with local radio programs could compensate for the lack of online access. I think it's important to keep this 20th-century technology in the race even when we seek every creative way to stretch its range onto the Web. Nonetheless, the most precious part remains for the children and youth of this Warlpiri community to have benefitted from an interactive and creative way of acquiring and producing knowledge. If only some stay on the same track, they will grow up to become creative and productive members of their small community as well as of the larger national commmunity. That could be the best guarantee for the survival of the language into the future.

Things are not easy, but…

I have been motivated by the multitude of languages that I met on Global Voices and it gave me the big envy to see the language bambara among these languages on line.

As fruit of the convergent pedagogy, the teaching of mother tongues in the Malian educational system and speaking English and French, I decided, first to build up spaces for myself on the platforms of blogs and on social networks.  So has been created the blog fasokan where I blogue in Bambara and French since 2008 and share the posts on Facebook and twitterlinkedin, Google+ with others. What I noticed is that the majority of my on line readers are from other continents. It’s them who give me courage and advices in these activities, even if they don’t speak it.

I always noticed that, except some, the speakers of this language  are not so interested in it for the moment on line, but some people, the strangers who have been in Mali as tourists, for projects, NGOs send me comments for the different posts in Bambara. The fact that the speakers of the language are not so interested did not discourage me because the idea is to continue to sensitize them about it.

The idea is to popularize the system in cities and especially in rural villages so that those who have not been to school can use it as those who speak the developed languages. So, it could permit to work together on line like in other languages on Global Voices. It’s not finish; I’m on it even if it’s not easy.

The implication of the citizens in the activities with our languages on line especially in rural areas, is difficult without giving them a training to the Web in bambara and this is that we experimented in summer 2011 with Toujours Pas Sages and it is one of also objectives of the blog Segouinfos; Segou Villages Connection Project a project  supported by Rising Voices. But I don’t know for the others who work in that field in other countries, but to work in this domain here, is like to try to push a hill. People used to work in former projects are paid; it is not easy to make them participate in an activity by voluntary service in spite of sensitizations. It is a lesson I learnt during my activities, but still, I’m not discouraged. That’s why I always continue to call for a policy system for the field of mother tongue on line.

I always continue to make people sensitive so that things move.

Manx Gaelic

I probably come at this whole debate from a difficult angle to most people. Working from the position of a very small language community we have to be realistic and except that pretty much anything we achieve is an improvement on what went before whilst accepting  that there aren't enough fluent speakers (although that's growing) to generate a great deal of interactivity on the web let alone work towards having Manx versions of Facebook/firefox etc.

In this respect although there is material out there for fluent speakers and very good learners my focus on-line is on raising the profile of Manx, letting people know it exists and ensuring that it has such a positive profile for the Island that the Manx Government and people will continue to support our efforts. My blog is therefore in English and twitter feeds in Manx and English. In some sense my audience isn't just speakers, but potential speakers, bureaucrats, politicians and the general public. It's about winning the battle of ideas as much as anything.  In this sense the web does offer us some cost-effective, and quick ways of getting out the positive message that the language is still here and growing and in getting that message to a new audience who may(or may not) engage with traditional media forms. The web definitely offers us new possibilities of spreading the message and informing political debate  

Re: Manx Gaelic

Adrian Cain wrote:

My blog is therefore in English and twitter feeds in Manx and English. In some sense my audience isn't just speakers, but potential speakers, bureaucrats, politicians and the general public. It's about winning the battle of ideas as much as anything. 

Strategically, such a comprehensive and inclusive approach should be the way to go, even though local situations differ a lot, as it is expected and becomes clearer along this exchange. The battle of ideas matters everywhere, whether it means the ability to simply speak a language in public, the acceptance that modern learning material and tools should be funded for a small language or a set of small languages, or whether it is pushing formal instruction in the language beyond the very elementary phase of public education. For example, over the last three months, as I read in the news that 1) the vast northern regions of Mali will be connected to a high-speed backbone and that 2) teaching content in local languages like Songhay will continue in secondary school (high school level), my first reaction is to call and check if the information is accurate. Because if it is, this means a significant potential for change in the area in which I try to intervene. That is, the effort to create localized software, educational tools and digital content to a Songhay-speaking learning community in a sustainable way. The fact that all Songhay instruction stops abruptly after 6 years of primary school demobilizes teachers, students and parents. No one sees a point to investing so much effort into a language that will be totally abandoned in favor of French in the 7th grade.  It's a conversation I've had with a broad range of people before.

This is why policymakers, artists, parents of children, and many other players are all important in moving beyond the usually narrow circle of language advocates. It can also confront us with uncomfortable truths on the ground and force us to rethink our assumptions, working hypotheses and communication points – without abandoning our core ideal, that these languages survive and, with luck, even prosper in the future.   

more on manx

Cheers for that

Ultimately there are underrepresented  languages  and there are ' underrepresented languages'!  From where I' m looking Irish seems to have it all! From a Manx perspective we have to be pretty hard-nosed on making decisions as to where our limited resources and manpower are spent; we have to be realistic too in a far from favourable economic climate; an economic climate that doesn't look as if it will improve in the near future.

We need to utilise our resources where they will have a real and meaningful impact on the numbers of people opting to learn Manx and in projects where it will improve their success rate. We are producing some genuinely high-class  material for use in class, which is having a real impact, but as someone who makes decisions on where our resources are spent I can't afford to allocate them to projects that would be nice to have but don't ultimately produce more and better speakers.

Moreover, I have to demonstrate to policy makers that there is genuine benefit to the wider Island community (less than 50% of the population are Manx born) that Manx offers the Island something. In this sense I don't see a Manx Gaelic Firefox, for example, being a realistic and effective way of 'promoting our own under-represented' language.

However, the Internet does offer Manx a real voice  both in the Island and world-wide. For example we don't have our own TV station on the Island and although we do loads with Manx Radio (and have some new Manx programmes underway) such sites as Manx Tube allows us to get to a wider audience on the Island than was previously possible. Twitter/facebook all contribute too, and although I'd love there to be more Manx used on these, I'm more concerned about getting our message across, especially to those who are unaware of the great work we do. The Internet has been a real benefit for us allowing us to show people that the language is fun, inclusive, modern, not a threat to anyone and a success story for the Island; and ultimately, something worth investing in.

Manx politicians and opinion formers know of our work and in particular about interest from abroad, such as recent visitors from UNESCO and Israel, and we should have some new videos available soon of local business who use Manx Gaelic in ways that are appropriate for them; this should provide further useful PR for the language.

My own background isn't particularly very academic, I'm definitely no linguist nor a computer guy; I'm more of a like a second-hand car salesman/evangelist trying to sell an idea of what the Island could look like with a vibrant and successful revival in the language; up to now that vision has been generally accepted, and the Internet does offer us scope to get this vision to a wider and newer audience: It's a vision thing after all and although a few more 'techies' would be useful I really need more car salesmen!

re: more on manx

Adrian – I agree that we need a differentiated reading of individual situations. We're talking mainly about online presence but we know that sometimes the access to facilities and tools, even to a full line of skillfully localized browsers and other software, is no guarantee of a robust Web life for a language. Ireland is certainly a good illustration of this discrepancy. Irish Gaelic seems to have become a visual language, ubiquitous in public and official texts, but hardly audible.

If we look at the case of Bambara and Songhay in Mali, we are also dealing with major differences: Bambara is a real national language spoken and understood by the great majority, with its economic and cultural strength building up constantly. It also belongs to a major language family in West Africa. Songhay is much smaller in Mali, more of a regional language covering a wide, but sparsely populated area. Demographically, Bambara is #1 and Songhay about #4 in Mali. It is clear that within the same country, such languages will evolve differently. Songhay (with Zarma) ist #2 in Niger after Hausa but the capital city, Niamey, is located in this western region, and this raises its profile in a major way. Both languages are spoken in different languages though Bambara has known a great deal of dialectal leveling. Songhay, as a "smaller" language, has been studied since the late 19th centuries by missionaries and colonial ethnolinguists. A lot of material has been produced by the Songhay unit at the ex-DNAFLA (institute of literacy studies and applied linguistics). For anyone interested in the language, there is plenty of semi-raw and finished material to keep busy. Internet may take time to reach northern Mali but I am not anxious about the strength of the language in its milieu for now. In Gao, there are at least 6 radio stations on the air daily and they do an amazing job of producing programs and connecting the countryside and the city through interactive programs. Their archives are in a precarious state though – our well-received 2-hour round table in Songhay on localization and ICT terminology in 2008 disappeared within days. No trace, because they didn't keep any digital backup of such programs at all. Unfortunately, the audiocassette version was practically inaudible. This is where one can hope that better digital equipment and Internet access could help. The Internet could also make the good shows audible beyond a specific locality. Still, even now Songhay-speaking radios in Niamey, Gao and Bamako already swap pieces of programming.

Promoting Tongan Language on Facebook

In the beginning of this year, I co-created (with Uanivā Havea, Sēfita Hao'uli, & Dr. Melenaite Taumoefolau) a Tongan language group on Facebook. Our Facebook group is known as Taulanga Tufungalea / Tongan WordsWorld. The main objectives of our Facebook group are:

1. To promote the correct use of Tongan language through pronunciation, spelling and grammar so that it continues to be a relevant and living tool for communications by Tongan speakers everywhere.

2. To engage in dialogues regarding the merits and deficiencies of words that have been adopted and created for the Tongan language.

3. To coin and select new Tongan words for ideas and materials that surround the daily lives of Tongans.

So far, our group has been successful in achieving objectives number 2 and 3.

Re: Promoting Tongan Language on Facebook

Thanks for sharing this; I'm glad to see that FB groups are being used beneficially for a variety of different under-represented languages.

A couple of questions I'd be interested to know the answer of: Does the Tongan FB group continue to pursue objective 1 ("the correct use of Tongan language through pronunciation, spelling and grammar"), or have they relented on that one? What was the rationale for pursuing that particular objective in the first place? And what is group members' interpretation of why that objective has failed, contrary to the other two successful ones?

Oliver, thank you so much for

Oliver, thank you so much for your question. Currently, most of the posts on our Facebook group are related to creating and coining new Tongan words for technology (texting) and others. There are very few posts on pronunciation, spelling and grammar. Our group are still interested in pursuing objective #1 but for now we are mainly focusing on objectives #2 and #3. One of the reasons for pursuing objective #1 (pronunciation, spelling and grammar) is that the Tongan language has a standardized orthography and grammar, and we wanted Tongan speakers to know about the standardized version of the Tongan language. We are aware and mindful of the variations in the Tongan orthography and grammar (Tongan has a strong oral tradition), but we wanted to provide a space online for Tongan speakers to learn standardized pronunciation, spelling and grammar.

Tēvita

 

Thanks, Tēvita, for your

Thanks, Tēvita, for your reply.

I agree that, once a language has a standardized orthography, the challenge then is to get writers to use it consistently. In the Rangi FB group too, only a handful of contributors are actually making use of the orthographic conventions (diacritics for tone, double letters for long vowels, two special characters for extra vowels). Of course, most of the members have not been taught, and even though we provide a brief writing guide on the side bar, that's probably not going to work in a society which prefers face-to-face teaching. Which is when I came across Kevin Scannell's work, and I'm very grateful that he included Rangi among the languages on http://accentuate.us. Now, I haven't seen any member use it yet , apart from myself (it's still a matter of getting it downloaded and installed on a computer plus some intro to the programme) but at least it's easily available now.

Optical Character Recognition

Has anyone had much success using Google's Tessearct open source OCR software?   It is command line based. Google created a trained data set for Cherokee, but for most of our users, using command line based software is very difficult. I'd like to know of any suggestions for any GUI available for Tesseract. Cherokee has many documents in the Sequoyahan syllabary we'd like to scan and OCR so we can put these materials online in a searchable format. Most of these documents exist only as scanned images.  We would like to use Tesseract for OCR so we can begin training it to recognize the Cherokee syllabary.

Tesseract

Hi Roy, thanks for joining the discussion!

I trained Tesseract models for "old Irish" script (sample) last year, but I haven't done much with it since.  There is a list of GUI front-ends for Tesseract on the Wikipedia page, but I haven't tried any of them.   Let me know if you find anything that works well.   Have you tested from the command line?  If so, what kind of performance are you getting?  I've been pretty disappointed with the models I've trained so far, and we're forced to do some post-processing of the output to fix obvious errors.

So far we’ve had little

So far we’ve had little success with a GUI on Windows or Mac.  At the moment, most of our users are one of the those two platforms.  The command line issue is a real world example of using languages with new technology: many of speakers are not nearly as tech savvy as needed to run command lines.  Anything that likes like any kind of code is an immediately frightening thing.  Even placeholder code in some of our localization projects scares some of our translators.  A lot of our success has come from second language learners interacting witih elder fluent speakers to describe the underlying ideas behind the technological terms.

Vagahau Niue

Fakaalofa lahi atu.

My story is from the small island of Niue, in the Pacific Ocean. Our dilema is that there's only 1,200+ people actually living on the island of Niue.  There's 20,000+ living in New Zealand and the rest scattered around the world. This is a link showing our people living in NZ http://www2.stats.govt.nz/domino/external/web/nzstories.nsf/0/7f8f00d539...

So our language is no longer on the endangered list. It might as well be on the extinct list based on the children that speak NIue as their first language. But I'm even more encouraged by everyone else's enthusiasm to do what they must for their languages.  So our work must use tools available today like internet as a catalyst to have our Vagahau Niue preserved and enticing for the younger generation to use it by speaking and writing/typing.

I believe that we all need to collaborate to be able to achieve the little steps that leads to giant leaps. I have always appreciated the value of my own language and years ago when our first son was born, his first few words were English and much of it was from the Tarzan cartoon that he loved. I said to my wife that if that Tarzan cartoon was in the Niue Language, his first few words would be our Vagahau Niue (Niue Language). From there I felt that it would be interesting to find ways in translating these famous cartoons - legally. I am not sure how much this would cost but if anyone has worked in this area with major film companies please I'd like to hear more about it.

Staying with cartoons, I thought that creating cartoons that have the same quality as Tarzan, but using our legends and heros would serve two purposes. The first would be that Vagahau Niue would be used and have the appeal of the target age group being children and young people including matured youth. I watch cartoons too! Secondly, the legends of Niue are revived and the stories of our heros are captured. I know that this is a big project but technology these days is advancing well in film making.  With these cartoons in the Niue Language it would also lead to a full package which includes reading materials, CD, websites, etc.  Funds raised would contribute to the Vagahau Niue project.

Unfortunately, family life had just begun for us back in 1999 and that was our first born. But, a few years on with five children, and having matured more in my appreciation for Vagahau Niue, and the opportunity this year to attend the Internet Governance Forum (IGF2011) in Nairobi, I am once again revived with a passion for assisting the preservation of my endangered language.

Since that IGF, I have been led to this dialogue amongst other forums and I'm picking up a lot of resources that will assist with our Vagahau Niue project. A lot of work have been done by our people all over the world but my contribution will be from my strength which is IT. So we hope to bring all of this work together and try to adopt some of the good work that has already been done by some of you here.

One of my colleagues Birtha Tongahai started a FB page at www.facebook.com/vagahau.niue that advocates FBing in Vagahau Niue only. Since I've come on board, my assistance is to collaborate all the tools for a maximum effort which also includes Twitter and the proposal to utilise Pootle and/or MediaWiki.  Another Niue advocate, Frank Sioneholo has been tireless in his work on the internet namely the WikiMedia. Even our friends in NZ, The Niue Language Trust is doing their best and have done work encouraging the use of Vagahau Niue with their website amongst other projects.  All of these is helping but even our people have to collaborate if we are to succeed in our efforts.

I am really enjoying the dialogue and look forward to sharing experiences and gain knowledge from it. I have shared the link of this dialogue to my friends from Niue and afar, including to the Pacific Island Chapter of ISOC email list and I hope that they also come on board and share their stories and experiences.  In the Pacific we have some fascinating languages so we hope to capture and preserve these as trohpies for they are the foundation of our cultures, traditions and heritage.

I come from an IT background working to support a local ISP but my language has called me here.

Kia Monuina

My experiences with Chichewa Language in Malawi

Sorry for coming in a bit late. Issues of technology are still in their infancy this side, so it has been hard for me to catch up with you. However, I hope that my story will also be of interests to some of us.

Chichewa language is a lingua-franca in Malawi and most part of Zambia, Mozambique and Zimbabwe. It was once an official language for Malawi, but the coming of democracy and "rights and freedoms" brought in a lot noise about its dominance in a country where there are scores of other indigenous languages. That led to the passing of a bill in Malawi Parliament that made Chichewa fall from the grace of Government as an official language. Despite that, it remains the widely-spoken language in Malawi, alongside Chitumbuka and Chiyao. This and other obvious reasons (just as my fellow language promoters have outlined) have made Chichewa (plus other Malawian languages) find it hard to penetrate into the information technologies.

As one of the strong promoters of Chichewa, I have been working on various possibilities of making it visible on the Internet. Of course, the use of Chichewa on "instant messaging" technologies like GTalk, Skype, Facebook Chat, e.t.c is very hard to measure, but I have often times used Chichewa in most of my conversations in such systems when speaking to my fellow Chichewa speakers. One thing that remains a mystery is to find what impact that has brought, whether people have also emulated the same or if there are others that already do that elsewhere.

Thanks to Prof Kevin Scannell for his encouragement in many ways. His invention, http://indigenoustweets.com/, has made a lot of Chichewa tweeps start using Chichewa on Twitter for them to appear on http://indigenoustweets.com/.

My "usage of" and "debates on" Chichewa on Facebook has also opened doors for development of Facebook groups that promote Malawian languages. Thanks to friends who have been frequent contributors. We are progressing. I also recall that we have groups that aimed at petitioning Facebook to open up for Chichewa translation. Unfortunately, we haven't succeeded in that as Facebook sounds to have dropped the translation project.

I have also a Chichewa blog that is dedicated to information technologies. Apart from just promoting the usage of Chichewa online, it is a way of generating and spreading Chichewa information technology terminologies. Chichewa is short of technology terminologies, so I felt that should be a way of generating and disseminating new ICT terminologies.

With the help of as few Malawian youth online, we also managed to push for translation of Google Web Search into Chichewa last year (2010). Unfortunately, many people have often times are dissatisfied with the services provided over the Chichewa version of Google Malawi. Coincidental to this discussion, I forwarded our concerns to Google last week: (i) Differences in Search results between the Chichewa and English Interfaces, (ii) Differences in the Menu Items Displayed and (iii) No Background Image Customization Menu. Google admitted that their support for Chichewa is not as advanced as for English. Google advised me that users are encouraged to make their own tradeoffs and choose between using http://www.google.mw/ in Chichewa and using http://www.google.mw/ in English or http://www.google.com/.

Lessons: A lot of them and I think we also are missing other lessons (sadly good ones) along the way :)

This one I am not sure if it is just an observation or a complete lesson altogether: One of the greatest criticisms I have received along the way is that I used complex language in communicating ideas in my usage of Chichewa online. A lot of these critics are mostly those that have grown and spent their life in urban areas, where the use of English is the order of the day. That has led to the disappearing of some of the original Chichewa terminologies. For example, you would hardly hear anyone using terms like chinkhupule, chikho, mphika and nyali for sponge, cup, pot and candle respectively. Instead, people prefer using "code-switched" (Chichewalised English) terms like siponji, kapu, poto and kandulo respectively. Unfortunately, I am not a fan of "code-switching" as (i) it brings a lot of grammatical inconsistencies, like classification of nouns (ii) it does not leverage the intrinsic generators of the language for developing new and pure terminologies (iii) it dilutes the powers of the language, forming some English Creole of some kind . I recall having a similar discussion with Prof. Scannell on this on Indigenous Tweets blog.

Welsh language cases

Here are some of the projects I've been involved in, and others I've not, which are addressing the use of Welsh online, mainly in social media contexts:

Aggregators 

 

  • Umap Cymraeg - a Welsh language tweet aggregator built by the Basque company CodeSyntax and adapted to Welsh. Similar to Indigenous Tweets though using a different method to recogise Welsh. It serves as a gateway to finding Welsh twitter users and giving the trending topics of the hour/day/week which has been of use to many in terms of monitoring use. 
  • Fideobobdydd (trans: "video a day") - a siple Welsh language video aggregator blog which I set up after conducting research on the Welsh language on YouTube with Dr. Daniel Cunliffe. We found that one of the main problems was the limited ways of finding Welsh content on there, and that often videos had been mis-tagged, or badly described. This re-distribution tries to find ways of getting more views to videos, and it's been successful to some extent. Fideobobdydd is automatically syndicated to Twitter and Facebook giving maximum exposure. 
  • Blogiadur - Welsh language blog aggregator (project run by Aran Jones)
  • Hedyn.net Welsh language blog and podcast list - a collaborative project to identify, categorise and give links to all Welsh language blogs

Collaborative Projects

  • Hacio'r Iaith (trans: Hacking the Language) - an annual BarCamp style conference organised by way of Wiki (see Hedyn, below) to discuss Welsh language web and tech issues (and to talk gadgets and LULZ!), which has spawned a group blog (for which we localised the P2 theme) and several smaller town based Hacio'r Iaith events. We're now into our third year. Here's a blog post in English about the first event we held. 
  • Hedyn.net (trans: Seed) - a wiki for developing and planning online Welsh language projects. Discussion of localistaion efforts (although it hasn't become a centre for this yet with open source localisation happening without a singel coordianation centre), mooting experimental projects, gathering information on the Welsh language web.

Language Learning  

  • SaySomethingInWelsh - a web based introduction to learning Welsh which has become immensely popular 

I might come back to post a few more Welsh examples tomorrow!

SSiW

I should make it clear that Say Something in Welsh is not a project I'm involved in but is the work of Aran Jones, Iestyn ap Dafydd an others.

From what I hear it has increased the amount of learners taking up classes offline, as it has been effective in easing people into language learning, through social media and intelligent use of the available technology. It has a lot to do with the tireless energy of the people who run it and the community they have built through the messageboard as well. This community have then taken ownership of the project and help to organise events and peer-teaching.

It would be interesting to see the types of online teching methods that have been developed for different languages and compare their merits.

SSiW

I appreciate you're not involved with their work but it's good to get some feedback about what seems an interesting project.

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