Dying languages to be preserved in talking dictionaries

Steve Connor
Saturday 18 February 2012 01:00

Some of the thousands of endangered languages destined to soon become extinct because so few people are speaking them are being preserved in the form of digital "talking dictionaries", designed to conserve the sound of the disappearing words and their meanings.

Linguists are using Facebook and other kinds of digital technology to preserve the more than half of the world's 7,000 languages that could disappear completely by 2100. It is the first time that some of the languages have ever been recorded, said David Harrison, a National Geographic fellow.

"Endangered language communities are adopting digital technology to aid their survival and to make their voice heard around the world. This is a positive effect of globalisation," Dr Harrison told the American Association for the Advancement of Science meeting in Vancouver.

Some of the languages, such as Siletz Dee-ni spoken by the native Americans of Oregon, have only a handful of fluent adherents. "The talking dictionary is and will be one of the best resources we have in our struggle to keep Siletz alive," said Alfred "Bud" Lane, one of its last fluent speakers.

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