Archive for the ‘Sign’ Category.

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.

Signs of change?

London is about to experience Olympic fever again with the Opening Ceremony of the Paralympic Games taking place tonight. Already disabled athletes have started appearing in the city and interacting with locals and other visitors.

The Paralympics provide a great occasion to focus attention on the issues and difficulties faced by disabled people across the world. The BBC reported earlier today that:

“if Chinese athletes perform as well in the Paralympic Games [a China did in the Olympic Games] it could help change attitudes towards disabled people in China. The Beijing Paralympic Games in 2008 played a huge part in changing attitudes, but campaigners say China still has a lot to do”.

Locally, the Head of Scope Cymru has made a similar point in the context of a survey showing attitudes to disabled people are worsening in Wales.

Those of us interested in endangered languages might think of sign languages and the Deaf community (since all sign languages are endangered and subject to pressure from speakers of majority spoken languages), however, as UK Deaf Sport reminds us: “many Deaf people do not consider themselves disabled, particularly in physical or intellectual ability. Rather, we consider ourselves to be part of a cultural and linguistic minority”. There is in fact a separate Deaflympics, “the second oldest multi-sport and cultural festival in the world, with a proud history stretching back to the first Games in Paris, in 1924” and sanctioned by the International Olympic Committee. It was recently announced by Craig Crowley, President of the International Committee of Sports for the Deaf, that the next Summer Deaflympics will be held in Sophia, Bulgaria in 2013 (following the cancellation of plans for Athens).

The visibility (no pun intended) of sign languages among linguists, and the wider community, has been slowly increasing in recent years, however, like other minorities and the disabled there is still some way to go. For example, the list of DoBeS projects of the Volkswagen Foundation does not include any sign languages at all, despite the information for applicants [.pdf] stating that “documentation projects may focus on endangered dialects, moribund languages as well as sign languages”. The Endangered Languages Documentation Programme at SOAS has so far funded eight projects on sign languages, namely:

Corpora for several of these are available in the Endangered Languages Archive at SOAS, namely Auslan, Malian sign, Indian village sign, and Inuit sign.

We have also run training events at SOAS designed to sensitise hearing researchers about sign languages, the most recent being a workshop in “Sign language documentation for linguists working with spoken languages” held in May 2012. The 2009 3L Summer School at SOAS included a plenary lecture (by Adam Schembri and published in Language Documentation and Description Volume 7) and a course on documentation of sign languages. The Summer School was attended by a number of Deaf students, and the constant presence of British Sign Language and American Sign Language was a factor in sensitising hearing students to the needs of their Deaf colleagues.

There seem to be mixed indicators of the current state of affairs, however. The 2010 3L Summer School in Leiden included a course on Documentary Sign Linguistics, and a course on Advanced Sign Language Documentation, however the programme for this year’s 3L Summer School in Lyon focussed on revitalisation and did not highlight the situation of sign languages explicitly. Similarly, next year’s Linguistic Society of America 2013 Linguistic Institute has no courses on sign languages and linguistics.

Increasing interest is apparent in some places, however. Colleagues in the Department of Linguistics and Multilingual Studies at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore reported to me recently that their undergraduate course “Deaf Culture and Sign Language” has been heavily oversubscribed by students wishing to learn about “the socio-cultural world of Deafness and the history and use of sign language”.

It would be interesting to learn more about what is happening in other parts of the world in relation to sign languages and linguistics.