July 10, 2007

More on the Phraselator

Recording and preserving the Dakota language

A device resembling a small computer, called a phraselator, is being used to record and preserver the Dakota language. The electronic interpreter was first used in combat zones.Dakota language teacher Wayne Wells pulled a chair next to tribal elder Curtis Campbell, who had settled into his favorite living room rocker to begin an unusual recording session. Wells clutched a gray metal box called a "phraselator," an electronic interpreter first introduced in Iraq and Afghanistan for use by U.S. soldiers at military checkpoints and security zones. He handed a microphone to Campbell, and asked him to repeat--in Dakota--decidedly civilian phrases such as "I want some coffee."

Campbell responded, "Pezutasapa mak'u wo." And the words were added to a databank of hundreds of phrases and sentences stored in the device. Word by word, the effort is helping students at Prairie Island Indian Community preserve their fragile native language.

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