Blog Post 1: How Everyday Technology Can Save A Dying Language

Technology in today’s modern world is advancing at a rate that is faster than ever before, and much of this technology is not only easily accessible, but has been integrated into daily life in such a way where many have come to expect a certain standard of living that includes those very technologies. With the advancement of the household technologies that aid humanity in their daily endeavors begins the question of how these technologies can shape cultures, social structures, and ways of communication for the better or even for the worse. Devices so small that they can fit in the palm of your hand or around your wrist, or bigger devices that can be installed all around your home, can do incredible things that were never thought possible many years ago. With a touch of a button on any of these devices you can contact someone across the world instantaneously. If there is a language barrier, that’s no longer an issue for modern devices with translation apps or even wearable technology that will translate spoken speech into another language.

With all the strives towards making modern communication more convenient, easy, and creating the devices to be more user friendly, one has to wonder how languages are influenced by this. Not only are new words related to technology added to various languages, but those who are creating and distributing the technology are making their own languages more mainstream. This presents a slight problem, as it is estimated that more than half of today’s 7,000 languages could vanish within our lifetime (Saving Vanishing ‘tongues’). The impact of this estimation leads researchers to a question that has recently arisen among the digital humanities topics of research; If technology has the power to control the survival of various languages, how might technology be used in preserving a dying language?

Many researchers of near extinct languages use devices such as tape recorders, video cameras, or data charts to catalog the spoken language. Other means of technologies they have used in the past include writing a dictionary or a novel in the dying language, or by sharing the language on a variety of websites. What is being done today however is the implementation or creation of apps dedicated to the language, posting videos of native speakers on Youtube, posting comments on websites in the language, and using social media to gain popularity for the language. This is usually done on smartphones, laptops, tablets, or desktop computers.

These efforts by researchers are done in the hopes that the language in its entirety will be accessible and therefore will be able to be revived at a later time. This is the same goal my Anthropology professor Emiliana Cruz has for the language of her people. Professor Emiliana Cruz speaks the Chatino language, which is at risk of extinction as it is no longer being commonly used due to the influence of Spanish dialects. In order to raise awareness for the language she teaches the language’s grammatical structure and its history to her students, as well as having native speakers present their knowledge to her classes. The goal she has for my class however, is to develop an online Chatino dictionary that is also in Spanish by first using google excel, with the future hope to make it easier for Spanish speakers to learn the Chatino language. We are also creating pedagogical grammar worksheets, videos, or books that can be used by anyone who wishes to learn the language at various ages, which we as a class will also post online. Emiliana Cruz, alongside other native speakers trying to revive the language will also use our work to create material on the language so that it may be taught in South American schools, or even in the communities in which Chatino is spoken. The work that we are doing as a class has inspired me to want to employ and find new ways of making endangered languages accessible through user friendly technologies such as in an app or on a website, where all the information about the language and teaching technics such as those that I have done for the Chatino language in my class, could be brought together in an interactive and enjoyable way.

Language helps create identity for many people in various cultures. Without their traditional spoken language, many feel as though they have lost a significant part of their identity or history. By making languages accessible through technology, researchers grant the opportunity for others to revive the dying or extinct language and claim their cultural identity. How we choose to communicate, and what we choose to communicate with, shapes the world in seemingly small yet vastly significant ways. Therefore, it’s profoundly important to be aware of how the technologies we use affect those aspects of our everyday life.


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