Applying Technology To Language Revitalization

DISCLAIMER: This was written as an assignment for my Language & Linguistics class and was originally posted on


Language revitalization benefits speakers of languages through acquisition as well as comprehension, community, and immersion. While the languages discussed originated from different continents, they share the common outlet of technology as a means of transmission. The use of technology as a resource for the propagating of dwindling languages is important because languages, generally and inherently, contain a wealth of societal and cultural information that may otherwise be taken for granted. There is to be more inquiry into the many ways technology can be expanded for the purposes of language revitalization.

Who are involved?

The language speakers are the most important factors in language revitalization, primarily since it is their own language that is the subject of renaissance and the social library of their identity (Anderson 275). They would be dependent upon the rest of the population and the social change that occurs. This was the case of the Irish language revival in Northern Ireland in a theory that Olaf Zenker proposes called “distributed agency.” This would mean that any works of an individual might be the byproduct of the events beyond his control (Zenker 24). In language revitalization, the people who speak the language are the main contributors of their own culture. They are also the ones who use the technology in order to advance their language.

Even though the language-speaking community plays a central role, they still need the assistance of a linguist in documenting the language and the creation of its grammar textbooks and dictionaries. Linguists, specifically applied linguists, are also directly involved in the propagating of the language with establishing immersion schools (Anderson 282). Some of the authors of the primary sources, Olaf Zenker and Rob Amery, are linguists who applied their own experiences of language revival into their work.

Universities are especially important since they are directly involved in the research involving linguistics. Having extensive research helped eleven languages of South Africa (De Pauw 264-5). They may not be threatened with no native speakers left, but the way that they’re preserved ensures that they still have active speakers. As far as tweeting in Maori, there are significant locations in the less populated areas of New Zealand, such as Tauranga, that contain the presence of colleges and universities (Keegan 70). Tertiary institutions become important hubs of language revitalization, considering how universities are innovating new forms of communicative technology (De Pauw 264).

The government plays a crucial role in reviving a language, primarily since they authorize and fund the projects specializing in that area. Compromise is often necessary between a language revitalization project and the local government. The creation of an immersion school usually must try to meet the requirements for a local school district’s secondary language curriculum requirement (Anderson 283). It can be instrumental in assisting a minority language (Amery 96); or in phasing it out, in the case of imperialism (Anderson 279).

What types of technology?

Although languages have been disappearing for the past century, the innovation of technology used to rejuvenate those languages has increased (Whalen 322).  The phenomenon became special during the year when Whalen wrote his article since linguists had to find data in an old-fashioned, costlier way, such as manually traveling to the American Philosophical Society (Whalen 325). The endangerment of languages becomes less of a bleak possibility with the advancing of technology.

In the 1970’s, a group of Irish speakers claimed ownership of a small newspaper within West Belfast called Andersonstown News, and it became a beacon for the Irish-speaking community as they would publish articles either exclusively in Irish or promoted their language in English (Zenker 33). The technology that was used was print publishing, which is a traditional form of language spreading. It was also used by a small group of linguists looking to restore the Mutsun language by publishing dictionaries, textbooks, and other teaching materials (Warner 136).

While acquiring the language is important, simply publishing dictionaries, textbooks, and educational programs is not enough for language revitalization (Eisenlohr 35). Not only that, but publishers are reluctant to produce linguistic texts, since it costs money with little quantity of texts (Whalen 325). For that, the language must be used on a daily basis through interaction (Eisenlohr 35). Television and radio does what print cannot, since they involve the use of both space and time (Eisenlohr 33). Media, such as those, contributed to the spread of dominant languages. If minority languages were to be used with the same technology, it would make them more relevant in the modern world as well as help native speakers preserve their languages (Eisenlohr 23-4). The Radio na Gaeltachta is based in Ireland, while the Red Quechua Satelital Continental, a Quechua-speaking satellite radio network, is in Argentina (Eisenlohr 30-1).

Technology in language revitalization is important if it especially involves communication. Twitter is a social media site used for the purpose of quickly sending out messages that can be forwarded or can convey a social message with a hashtag to make it searchable (Keegan 61). There are five hundred languages spoken on Twitter. Just as television and radio were used to promote dominant languages, social media is also used for the same purpose but, like the two forms, is also used to propagate dying languages (Keegan 60).

Language also must be consistent and not filled with errors. The North-West University in South Africa contains the Centre for Text Technology, which has created spell-checkers, language instruction packages, and research on machine translation and speech technology (De Pauw 264). Within Warner’s team of linguists, a programmer offered his expertise in creating a Mutsun spell-checker. When applying a spell-checker to a dead language, it’s very important since the words are constantly updating as more research is done and the spell-checker automatically corrects the original typed word with the new word (Warner 141).

Technology in language revitalization also enables the connection between spoken and written languages. The Meraka Institute in South Africa focuses on text-to-speech technology, which involves spoken language identification (De Pauw 264-5). In a study involving young adults who were bilingual in Welsh and English, an N400 modulator was used to record the amplitudes of their voices when completing a Welsh or English sentence (Ellis 1392).

Film is also important, since it helps spread the awareness of language revitalization to big productions along with a wider audience. Terrence Malick, in his 2005 film The New World, wanted to depict the Virginia colonies in a realistic way. He did so by making sure that the Virginia Algonquian language was spoken (Rudes 29-30). Film is especially powerful, since it appeals to the sight and hearing of the viewer. Rudes provides a basic example in his article of how Virginia Algonquian was used in the film and, quite possibly, hundreds of years ago. John Smith, played by Colin Farrell, says that he comes from England, or “the island on the other side of the sea.” Then his translator recites it in Virginia Algonquian, with Rudes noting the exceptions in sentence structure and the differences between the words from the two original wordlists and the words readapted by Rudes himself (Rudes 33-6).

The physical format of sound production, which is a CD, is especially important when understanding how the language is pronounced and communicated in different languages (Aronin 228). This was how Blair Rudes was able to help the Native American actors rehearse their lines in Virginia Algonquian, by recording himself reciting the words (Rudes 36-7). The linguists responsible for the resurrection of the Mutsun language have also experimented with CD’s (Warner 139).

It is also important to note that distributed agency is centered on language and the outlets that enable its spoken and written nature (Zenker 24). When technology transcends physical interaction, communication is often done online (Eisenlohr 37). The use of the internet is incredibly useful when developing a more interconnected community who are able to use their language (Keegan 60). In 2004, Whalen suggested in his article that revolutionizing the field of linguistics would be to combine the computerized texts that detail a language with the internet (Whalen 232). A technological tool lauded by Anderson in his experience was a Talking Dictionary, which consists of the combination of text, sound files, photos, and video as a form of online, interactive encyclopedia (Anderson 283). What makes the internet unique is that it removes the necessity to publish language texts through print publishing. This allows speakers to easily access them without any major costs (Whalen 325).

The storage of the language is the most important part of revitalization, especially if it’s a dormant language. Sixty years after the death of the last speaker of Mutsun, the original records written by linguist J. P. Harrington were stored into a database by a group of linguists (Warner 136-7). They also use a database from the Summer Institute of Linguistics called FieldWork Language Explorer to analyze the original material for the dictionary (Warner 141). In this case, technology was used to ensure that any form of information and field-work about a dead or dying language retains some form of durability. Whalen noted the importance of computers when it was applied to linguistics. He mentioned programs used to construct language family trees, digitizing dictionary entries, and the analyses of authorship and the sound of the speech (Whalen 323-4), which is also why the use of part-of-speech tagging within the digitally rendered texts is important (Zeldes and Schroeder 165).

Where are these languages?

A language can only die or be declared dead in a geographical place, which Gregory Anderson of the Living Tongues Institute coined the language hotspot, where they fail to compete with a dominant language, particularly one that was enforced via imperial and capitalistic hegemony (Anderson 276). The community shifting from native language-speaking to dominant language-speaking centrally has to do with the disruption of transmission between the speakers and their children. Understanding the history behind the language shift in various parts of the world means creating technologically assisting solutions that are unique to those languages. For language hotspots consisting of dormant languages, it’s best to use databases or the production of children’s books. In others, the propagation might be the main focus with radio and television.

In Asia, to provide an example, there is a notable language hotspot in Eastern Siberia, specifically around the Kamchatka Peninsula in rugged, mountainous villages. The population mainly thrives off reindeer-herding and sea mammal hunting. Although Imperial Russia established penal colonies and land for serfs, what exasperated the language shift from the indigenous Siberian languages was during the Soviet era when Russian-speaking populations were forced there. The Siberian languages stem from the language families: Turkic, Eskimoic, and Aleut and almost all of them are endangered, which means that the youngest speakers are 50-60 years old (Anderson 278-9).

There is often reliance on code-switching by preserving a native language at home while using the dominant language in the open. When it came to the relationship between the Irish-speaking community and the rest of Northern Ireland, there was the tendency to speak “…Irish if possible, yet English if necessary” (Zenker 34). However, there is a sense of guilt that comes with being a minority, such as the case of Mona Zaki, an Egyptian woman who refused to speak Coptic to her own children, since she felt that it had no value in a country with an Arabic-speaking majority (Mayton 60). Within the supremacy of a dominant language, whether it is English, Spanish, Arabic, or Russian, has to do with how much value children place on their own language, which diminishes as they get older (Anderson 274).

The language ideology that is usually prevalent is the association of dominant-language media with commercial attractiveness (Anderson 275; Eisenlohr 30). Even in state-run television or radio in minority languages, it is often mingled with lexicon from the dominant language, such as Catalan media containing “light Catalan,” which includes Spanish lexicon with the Catalan language (Eisenlohr 30). There is the tendency among new speakers to gravitate towards the dominant language since it is seen as more sophisticated than the native language (Eisenlohr 32). Although social media is used to promote minority languages, there are increasing number of indigenous language speakers using dominant languages to reach out to a wider audience (Keegan 60).

Geography and the close proximity of the speakers are important especially when regarding technology. Language is transmitted through gatherings, such as organizing summer camps where only the language is spoken (Warner 137). The Mutsun people live in scattered communities hours apart, and they have family and job obligations, which keep them from taking part in immersive gatherings (Warner 138-9). As far as tweeting in Maori, the longitude/latitude reading is recorded. Maori twitter users also display their current location on their profile. In this case, the highest number of tweets were concentrated in the largest cities: Auckland, Wellington, and Christchurch (Keegan 69).


To read more, visit the paper uploaded on

How Language-Speakers Are Central To Language Revitalization

DISCLAIMER: This article was originally posted on Odyssey.


An important part of language revitalization is the language speakers themselves, for they are the ones who are responsible for their own linguistic renaissance and their language reaffirms their connection to each other, their land, and the country outside of their communities. Although there can be help from outside the language community, truly sustainable revitalization can only come from within the language community. This would be an important factor, as it would mean that the language, whether endangered or revived, is not only spoken at a gathering but in every speakers’ everyday life.

The linguists who are involved are merely there to guide the progress of the project. Just like in the case of Natalie Warner and her team of linguist working to reconstruct the Mutsun language indigenous to southern California, they joined with the Mutsun community to create language-teaching materials such as textbooks. The linguists also provide the technology purchased through grants in order to publish a dictionary, create a software for Mutsun speakers who live miles apart, and provide a database to preserve the original notes that recorded the last Mutsun speaker who passed away in 1930.

Since the speakers are the center of these types of projects, this would enable them to connect with any deceased community members who may have contributed to providing field-notes to any linguists. By revitalizing a language like the Okanagan language from the Salish language family, it enables the Okanagan tribe to reclaim their place on their ancestral land within the U.S. state of Washington and the Canadian province of British Columbia. What brings indigenous peoples and scientists together is the language and oral legends that may provide insight into any natural phenomenon that may have occurred. Indeed, a language is more important than for communication, for it provides, as Patricia A. Shaw of the BC Studies Journal would call: “…a seamless,tightly integrated, interactive symbiotic relationship between the people and the land.

So it would make sense that language revitalization can only be an organic phenomenon, not just as a way to have less reliance on outside help but also to give the speakers themselves a large degree of importance. It helps to shatter the identity crisis indigenous people feel, when they are neither white nor resembling their ancestor in terms of the language they spoke. In fact, the language would not be confined to the past and can be given relevance through media such as film, music, and video games. Bringing new speakers to the Salish languages, for instance, is a way of preserving the cultural identity behind the Salish nations.

As such not only does a language revitalization project require the language speakers themselves, but it also requires a diverse array of skills they may have, such as music, pedagogy, illustration, grant-writing, etc. Language speakers would need to congregate in order to transmit their language, either through developing conversational levels of fluency or learning the basics through word-based games. If they cannot do it physically, then they can do it through internet connection.

It also helps to create connections between the language-speaking community and the rest of the society that speaks a dominant language in terms of the language-speakers developing benefits of bilingualism and overall well-being. This was shown by Quechua speakers in Peru when given a Quechua-Spanish bilingual education. The students became less shy and more vocal in the classroom when their native language was used for instruction. By instructing in the native language, students would be more responsive.

This is why language revitalization is important as it brings entire families of speakers together. To paraphrase Rob Amery of the University of Adelaide, “The family and the home are among the last bastions of retention of a language.” The household is definitely the most important component of language revitalization, since children receive speech from their parents or guardians. For parents just learning about the language, it would be crucial, in the case linguist Daryl Baldwin trying to learn his ancestral Myaamia language, to have constant reminders of the translations of every object in the house, so sticky notes could be applied on them with the language translations. This is also why naming in the indigenous language is so important, as it asserts an identity that differs from the one imposed by colonization, just as Daryl Baldwin gave his children Myaamia names and Professor Margaret Noodin gave her children Anishinaabeg names. Linguist Ghil’ad Zuckermann of the University of Adelaide makes the case that revitalization of indigenous languages increases communication between entire generations, which results in the decrease of suicide and juvenile delinquency rates.

This results in long-term benefits to the community and to the government that saves money. The rest of the dominant language-speaking society also takes part by preserving a part of their geographical culture. This is when the in-sight into indigenous languages shifts to linguistic anthropology. That is why studying the Salish languages means studying the place-names of Canada which have native etymologies, such as Musqueam, Kwantlen, Matsqui, and Chilliwack. Their indigenous lands are important since they relied on them for foraging and food-growing sites as well as providing a link to their oral traditions. When places have not retained their original names, the local governments and the indigenous communities often work together to rename towns and rivers, such as in the case of the Tandanya National Aboriginal Cultural Institute which is responsible for renaming various locations in Adelaide, Australia to their Australian Aboriginal names.

The difficulties that can occur are when a language revitalization project does not have the funds to have fresh supplies, such as paper, pencils, erasers, electronic devices, ink cartridges, blackboards, etc. What donations demonstrate is that these types of projects can be limited based on any reliable funds. No language revitalization project is immune from this problem. When government grants are not enough, like in the Wopanaak Language Reclamation Project’s case, the participants must find other means of procuring money. This is why crowd-funding can become a major component of language revitalization projects as it can provide the funds directly from the people who would benefit from these types of projects, as well as expand the contributions to include natives and non-natives alike.

It Is About Time The Field Of Language Revitalization Gets Its Own Graduate Program

As someone who received his undergraduate degree, it has been my goal to get into the field of linguistics in any way possible. Normally, I would settle with whatever degree would get me close to that goal (such as the Masters in English with a Rhetoric Concentration that I am currently pursuing), however, this piqued my interest, as I hope to study further into this underappreciated field.

It has been announced that the University of Berkeley has launched a new graduate program centered on language revitalization. Specifically it is offered as a graduate minor to Doctorate students. I will have to think about that when I reach that level. It is an interdisciplinary field combining ethnic studies with linguistics.

One of the students in this program, Sara Chase, has been taking advantage of this opportunity to revive the Hoopa language in her indigenous community. The Hoopa live in Humboldt County in northern California and their language is a member of the Athabaskan language family alongside well-known sister-languages Navajo, Gwich’in, and Apache.

Language revival has been talked about among academics, with the most notable being Ghil’ad Zuckermann, a professor from the University of Adelaide, who also has an online course dedicated to the subject. In the University of Victoria in Canada, there is a Certificate in Aboriginal Language Revitalization that is available.

However, it is only in America that I am starting to see language revitalization taken more seriously. In the case of the University of Berkeley, it is the university that takes that field most seriously as it applies to indigenous American languages. Of course an exemption would be Swarthmore College, where linguist K. David Harrison, who produced the documentary The Linguists, teaches. Though there are no graduate programs specifically dealing with language revival.

Though, I could imagine that it would be difficult to pinpoint language revival as a topic reserved for an academic degree beyond a minor or certificate, because it is intricately complex, as it would not only involve studying and transcribing the language, but also about being an active part in teaching the language to the descendants of the speakers. This could be important for Chase, as she is pursuing a PhD in Education. It would also be important for anyone pursuing this field to know that multiple specializations would not only be accepted but needed in language revitalization, such as pedagogy but also music and programming.

Nonetheless, it is definitely a good way to raise awareness of these languages that are either sleeping or endangered. Nez Perce scholar Beth Piatote noted the importance they have to the speakers as well as the environmental and medical knowledge that they contain. These reasons are why language revival is such an important field to examine in a collegiate level.

Endangered Languages Are Adaptable To Popular Media

DISCLAIMER: This was originally posted on Odyssey.


In order to dispel the stereotype that endangered languages are primitive and no longer have relevance, talented speakers (as well as non-speakers) have taken advantage of popular media in order to raise awareness that it is not the case. Media, such as music, film, and video games, have been used to show that endangered languages are adaptable to modern technology. While communication in these types of languages is important, media can help promulgate them.

Music is especially important when appealing to the younger generation. It would become relevant to young Irish people to hear Avicii’s “Wake Me Up” and Bastille’s “Pompeii” covered in their language, especially when the English language permeates their everyday lives. This medium reaches to the younger generations’ enjoyment as well as deep within their hearts.

Margaret Noodin, a professor at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and a native Ojibwe speaker, wrote about collaborating with fellow Ojibwe-speakers–Howard Kimewon and Alphonse Pitawankwat–in translating lyrics from Metallica’s “Welcome Home (Sanitarium).” What started as a request from local high school students became a confrontation with problems of the Native American community, such as suicide, especially with lyrics such as “Welcome to where time stands still” and “I fear living on” (Bringing 128).

The emotional connection is what keeps the younger generation engaged. This generation also has interactive connection through video games. There is an independently released PC game that involves the speakers of Iñupiaq, a language indigenous to Alaska, being the voice actors. When the game was released, its very title provided an advertisement both to any young Iñupiaqs who want to connect with their identity as well as the broader consumers whose curiosity of Alaska Native culture might become inspired by the game. It was marketed as “Never Alone” along with the Iñupiaq translation “Kisima Ingitchuna.” There was also an attempt by the Luiseño tribe to revitalize their language via Nintendo DSi, by producing 150 copies of cartridges containing songs, vocabulary, and quizzes to the students.

While music and games appeal to the younger generation, film helps bring a language to a wide audience. It is also a medium which famous actors and directors will use as a language revitalization project. It would involve using the language within the dialogue in order to provide both verisimilitude and broadcasting. In an effort to make “The New World” more realistic, Director Terrence Malick hired linguist Blair Rudes to reconstruct the extinct language spoken by Pocahontas and her tribe, using as sources the original word-lists recorded by John Smith himself and from words from related Algonquin languages. After the film was released, Rudes handed the fruits of his research to the descendants of Pocahontas and worked with Helen Rountree, an expert in Virginia Algonquian tribes, in developing a Virginia Algonquian dictionary.

If popular media can propagate dominant languages, such as English and Spanish; then they would also be impactful if the endangered languages were to be used in the same media. What they offer is direct defiance towards years, if not centuries, of stigmatization and imperialism (both nationalistic and capitalistic.) While documentation of these languages is important, they are not meant to be confined into archives as dictionaries, field-notes, photographs, and sound recordings. Popular media is like the language-speaking workshops that Daryl Baldwin hosted to introduce new speakers of the Myaamia language, which he described them as “…not just about language, but about recovering pieces of your identity.”

To learn more, read “Bringing Out Languages Home: Language Revitalization for Families.”


Attribution: YouTube