March 03, 2007

Phraselator goes to work

A high-tech translator clarifies a dying tongue

Handheld device lets a Prairie Island elder's voice teach his Sioux dialectCampbell is an elder in the Mdewakanton Sioux tribe that makes up the Prairie Island Indian Community, and he is one of a small number of Minnesotans fluent in a particularly old dialect of Siouan. He is a key part of a tribal project, overseen by Wells, to record the Dakota language so it can be programmed into an instant electronic translator that seems like something out of "Star Trek."

Known as the Phraselator P2, the handheld device already is being used by U.S. soldiers in Iraq to help them communicate with Iraqis. A person can speak into the Phraselator P2—a unit just slightly bigger than a paperback book—and a pre-programmed voice repeats the phrase, translated.

For example, say "What is your name?" into the Phraselator P2 that Wells uses, and it responds with the Dakota equivalent, "He toked eciyapi he?"

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