Archive for the ‘Digital Humanities’ Category.

Upcoming lecture: Payi Linda Ford – New ways for old ceremonies

Payi Linda Ford will deliver the Alfred Hook Lecture at 5pm on Wednesday 11 May 2016 at the Charles Perkins Centre Lecture Theatre, Building D17, Johns Hopkins Drive (off Missenden Road), The University of Sydney NSW 2006

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Reading HyperCard stacks in 2016

HyperCard (HC) was a brilliant program that came free with every Macintosh computer from 1987 and was in development until around 2004. It made it possible to create multimedia ‘stacks’ (of cards) and was very popular with linguists. For example, Peter Ladefoged produced an IPA HyperCard stack and SIL had a stacks for drawing syntactic trees or for exploring the history of Indo-European (see their listing here). Texas and FreeText created  by Mark Zimmerman allowed you to create quick indexes of very large text files (maybe even into the megabytes! Remember this is the early 1990s). I used FreeText when I wrote Audiamus, a corpus exploration tool that let me link text and media and then cite the text/media in my research.

My favourite HC linguistic application was J.Randolph Valentine’s Rook that presented a speaker telling an Ojibwe story (with audio), with interlinear text linked to a grammar sketch of the language. I adapted that model for a story in Warnman, told by Waka Taylor, and produced as part of a set of HC stacks called ‘Australia’s languages’ and released in 1994. Continue reading ‘Reading HyperCard stacks in 2016’ »

David Nathan on EL Publishing’s first month, about Open Access, and being Open about Access

David Nathan writes

EL Publishing is a new online publisher which was launched on 18th July and which will publish a journal, multimedia, and monographs, focussing on documentation and description of endangered languages. EL Publishing has an international editorial board and operates a fully double-blind peer-review process for all submitted materials.

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Playing texts and media—EOPAS again

While I obviously like EOPAS as a model for corpus presentation (see the earlier blog post about it here), I found a renewed enthusiasm for it today as I was checking the meaning of a word in a text I was translating from South Efate. The word lunak does not appear in any of my notes nor in the dictionary, but appears a few times in a story told by the late Kalsarap Namaf. I wrote to Joel Kalpram, who is from Erakor village and speaks the language, and asked him if he knew the word.

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Open access and intimate fieldwork

A report on the Linguistics in the Pub discussion Tuesday 11th March, Prince Alfred Hotel, Grattan St, Melbourne.

This Linguistics in the Pub discussion brought together fieldworkers who do research in Indigenous Australia, Africa, South Asia, Papua New Guinea and Nepal, as well as a computational linguist who has developed software to automate language documentation. The linguists were not all Australian, in fact we were lucky to have four participants who identify as European who are living in Australia, temporarily or permanently. The linguists’ experience in language documentation ranged from between 6-30 years and between them had deposited in the digital archives: DoBeS, Paradisec and ELAR. The timeliness of this discussion is demonstrated by David Nathan’s very recent ELAC post on the same topic.
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ARC Centre of Excellence for the Dynamics of Language

We have great pleasure in announcing that the ARC has funded a Centre of Excellence for the Dynamics of Language over seven years. This project will be led by Nick Evans at ANU with a collaborative team from there, the University of Western Sydney, the University of Queensland and the University of Melbourne, and with many partners from other universities and institutions including AIATSIS and  Appen.

We want this to be a centre for collaboration, for generating  ideas and inspiration for linguistics in Australia and the world.  In the New Year we’ll be putting up a web-page to give more information, In the meantime, here’s an overview of what we are planning.

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Useful and interesting websites and apps about endangered languages: July LIP

Ruth Singer recaps some of the interesting points of this week’s Melbourne Linguistics in the Pub, an informal gathering of linguists and language activists that is held monthly in Melbourne

In this month’s LIP and last month’s participants shared in their latest discoveries in the world of apps and online resources. June’s meeting focused on software and apps that are useful to our work in doing language documentation. July’s meeting looked at websites and apps that are interesting because they give us some insight into what our co-workers are doing, providing inspiration for our own ideas. We basically surfed the internet together, with the help of a large tv on the pub wall and an iphone’s wifi hotspot.

The session began with a tour of three websites that each make available materials on a specific endangered language and are favourites of mine. These sites draw together resources produced over a period of time, showing how they relate to one another, as well as incorporating current blogs and forums.

http://bininjgunwok.org.au/ 

Murray Garde’s Bininj Gunwok site makes the language itself prominent as all the menu headings are in Bininj Gun-wok – you can swipe your mouse over them to see the English heading. This site has been used by a high school student I work with in northwest Arnhem Land, to teach herself how to read and write in her mother tongue. The usefulness of the site to a wide audience that includes native speakers, linguists and non-linguists has inspired me to plan for a similar site on the Mawng language. The Bininj Gunwok site has a download area where you can download a book on  the Kunwinjku dialect of Bininj Gun-wok by SIL linguists Steve and Narelle Etherington – a publication that was previously very hard to get. The blog area is regularly updated by Murray and provides much insight into the various interesting projects that he is working on, from ethnobiology to traditional fire management. No doubt the local communities Murray works with enjoy viewing the audiovisual files available on the blog. The blog has materials to support people who want to learn Bininj Gun-wok. Murray regularly uploads sound files, videos and transcriptions. These provide good transcription exercises. Learners of Bininj Gun-wok can also subscribe to regular instructional emails.

http://www.tewhanake.maori.nz/
The Maori language site Te whanake shows what is possible for well-resourced endangered Indigenous languages. There is everything you could ever want here to support Maori language maintenance and Maori language revitalisation. There are videos, forums, online learning modules, online dictionary and pointers to the Maori dictionary app which looks wonderful, with sound files and images.

http://www.yuwaalaraay.org/

http://lah.soas.ac.uk/projects/gw/

Beta mac version: http://www.dnathan.com/client/GY/index.html

gamilaraay.wordpress.com

The sites above are a ones that linguist John Giacon has been involved with, providing a large range of resources for Yuwaalaraay and Gamilaraay languages of northern New South Wales, Australia. These resources can be accessed both online and through downloading. These two different access options have different advantages. Online resources can generally be accessed regardless of the operating system you use, although they are usually designed to work particularly well on one kind of device. Downloadable resources have the advantage that they can be used in communities which do not have reliable internet access. As long as they can be downloaded once, they can be accessed anytime without internet access.

We also chatted a bit about all the new mobile phone language learning apps around. There are so many that reviews are beginning to appear:

http://globalnativenetworks.com/2013/06/18/idecolonize-indigenous-language-learning-mobile-apps/

It’s no coincidence that the language learning apps profiled are all for Indigenous languages that are spoken in countries where Indigenous language initiatives receive substantial government funding: Australia, Canada, New Zealand. This highlights the need for cheap and good mobile apps which you can plug data from any language into. We have the free lexique pro software for creating online dictionaries but lexique pro sites do not view that well on a mobile internet browser. Free or cheap open-source apps are needed for the majority of endangered languages which are spoken in countries where little or no funding is available for these kinds of initiatives.

Lauren Gawne introduced us to her current fave site: iltyemiltyem.tumblr.com

This blog, written mainly by Margaret Carew, is a prequel to the forthcoming online dictionary of central Australian Indigenous sign language. The blog tracks the progress of the Arandic sign languages project. Not a fieldwork blog, this blog discusses how the author works through various workflow and data management issues, in producing a dictionary of a visual language whose entries include videos of each sign. Lauren particularly appreciated the insight it provides into this process, which we all largely struggle along alone. Sharing how we work mundane but necessary things out could help reduce the hugely time-consuming nature of these tasks a bit by preventing us from reinventing the wheel. The site makes the collaborative nature of the project more apparent, featuring Indigenous linguist Liz Ellis’ explanations of the differences between signs and many photos of the project team hard at work. One other motivation for the site, apparently, is to help the participants come to grips with what it means to share information on the internet – in terms of your image and your knowledge and culture. Many participants live in communities without ready internet access. Negotiating the many ethical issues in putting such a dictionary online is much easier when participants and stakeholders a clearer idea of what it will mean for their images, voices, language and culture to be available online.

The discussion of the the Iltyem-Iltyem site led to some suggestions that linguists need a central site where we share such information such as a stack exchange or something like the physics arxiv: http://arxiv.org/new/physics.html Certainly we have many sites where we swap information, such as the RNLD list, the Toolbox google group and other sites, so probably we’re doing ok as it is, we’re not a very unifed bunch.

Then we briefly browsed some central Australian  media sites – where youth arts, media education and language maintenance go hand-in hand through the activities of eight specialised media workshops in central Australia.

www.ngapartji.org is one of the oldest such projects, dating back to 2006

www.pawmedia.com.au has some group outputs from media projects, such as the Jack and John film in the animating Yimi series. We watched it together and it was a hit.

These projects show how language maintenance activities can be combined with arts and education activities, and end up engaging many more people, particularly young people.

The next part of LIP took us to talking about the ‘big sites’: Wikipedia, Youtube and the Google endangered languages site.  We discussed how useful but often underutilised the Wikipedia pages on individual languages can be. It is a great place for a sketch grammar with links to the main references on a language. However, given there is little academic recognition of doing this, it comes down to whether an individual linguist gets inspired to work on the page.

The Wictionary and the Wikipedias in endangered languages were also discussed. The Tok Pisin site has over a thousand pages, but most of the more elaborate wikipedias in small languages are languages of Europe such as Rumansch. Next we talked about the Google endangered languages site. We speculated on whether there will be a snowball effect, with people starting to populate the Google endangered languages site with information more and more, or whether most language entries will remain shells.Lastly we talked about how Youtube, Facebook and Twitter are all providing data for our analyses these days, but there hasn’t been much discussion of how to go about this ethically.

Next month there will be a discussion of language revitalisation with participants Ghilad Zuckerman and Christina Eira. Sign up to the RNLD email list, facebook page or check the RNLD LIP webpage for more details.

Supporting language use and learning

In the midst of Endangered Languages Week there is the good and the bad. The good was the delight of reading Rob Munro’s post on what his company Idibon intends to do for NLP for endangered languages. The company is advised by Chris Manning, and I learned today that his wonderful Warlpiri dictionary presentation tool Kirrkirr was being used by a new generation of Warlpiri. Good things echo – and NLP can build a place for small languages in a digital world.

At the same time in Australia we are reinforcing English monolingualism by reducing the opportunities to learn languages at university. The fees and Government support don’t pay the full costs. So yesterday yet another Australian university announced it is giving up teaching languages – Spanish, Chinese and Japanese at the University of Canberra. This follows on Curtin University announcing it was thinking of similar cuts.

The argument is that students can always study languages on the web/in another university. But the reality is that language learning is hard work, speaking another language requires intensive oral practice, students are doing part-time work, and the time and effort required to go to another university make languages just all too hard (and cross-institutional enrolment is a world of pain). SO, do it on the web? Sure – but it COSTS real money to put courses online and make them interactive enough and attractive enough to overcome the inherent problems of learning a spoken language on-line. And money to do that is exactly what universities don’t have.

The reality is that, as more universities close down languages, fewer students will learn languages, and there will be a shrinking pool of Australians who understand the societies where those languages are spoken.

At ANU we are experimenting with teaching Portuguese – 240+ million speakers, but barely taught in Australia. We can only do this thanks to generous support from the Embassy of Brazil and a Portuguese language endowment we have set up. That’s scary.

But then so is a fund-starved university education system where law has become more attractive to students than pure maths, agriculture and physics. No wonder we are falling behind in educating primary and secondary school students – if we don’t teach science and languages at universities, where will the next generations of science and language teachers come from?

Digitising Mali’s cultural heritage — Simon Tanner

Simon Tanner has a blog post on his experience of working with various manuscript collections and the tragic destruction of potentially thousands of manuscripts from the New Ahmed Baba Institute building in Mali: “I have worked with manuscripts for over 20 years now; as a librarian, academic and as a consultant helping others to digitise their collections. I have worked in Africa with various libraries and archives for over 10 years. [..] Africa is a continent that has been wracked by the three horsemen of the manuscript conservationists nightmares: war, pestilence and natural disaster.” (http://simon-tanner.blogspot.co.uk/2013/01/african-manuscripts-treasure-in-danger.html

Counting Collections

As will be clear to regular readers of this blog, we are concerned here to encourage the creation of the best possible records of small languages. Since much of this work is done by researchers (linguists, musicologists, anthropologists etc.) within academia, there needs to be a system for recognising collections of such records in themselves as academic output. This question is being discussed more widely in academia and in high-level policy documents as can be seen by the list of references given below.

The increasing importance of language documentation as a paradigm in linguistic research means that many linguists now spend substantial amounts of time preparing corpora of language data for archiving. Scholars would of course like to see appropriate recognition of such effort in various institutional contexts. Preliminary discussions between the Australian Linguistic Society (ALS) and the Australian Research Council (ARC) in 2011 made it clear that, although the ARC accepted that curated corpora could legitimately be seen as research output, it would be the responsibility of the ALS (or the scholarly community more generally) to establish conventions to accord scholarly credibility to such products. Here, we report on some of the activities of the authors in exploring this issue on behalf of the ALS and discuss issues in two areas: (a) what sort of process is appropriate in according some form of validation to corpora as research products, and (b) what are the appropriate criteria against which such validation should be judged?

“Scholars who use these collections are generally appreciative of the effort required to create these online resources and reluctant to criticize, but one senses that these resources will not achieve wider acceptance until they are more rigorously and systematically reviewed.” (Willett, 2004)

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