October 02, 2007

Saving O'odham with multimedia

Tech linguists work to save languageNathan Jahnke, a graduate linguistics student from Houston who is participating in the language-revitalization project, said the group is working on digitizing the largest Tohono O'odham dictionary.

"Obviously, if you want to learn a language, you'll need to look up words in the dictionary," he said, "and right now the best one isn't digital and is out of print, so that puts a serious limit on how easily people can learn the language."

Along with the digitizing the dictionary, Jahnke said the group also is creating multimedia teaching materials, including PowerPoint presentations.

"We tried to imagine what kind of materials kids today would get into," he said, "and we decided that multimedia stuff is crucial, and there is virtually none of that in O'odham right now."

Fitzgerald said ensuring the translation of the language into other texts is important, but creating audio recordings of O'odham speakers also is an objective of language revitalization.

"If you have something written down on a page, you can't hear intonations, which changes a sentence from a statement versus a question," she said. "Trying to capture the details of that kind of pitch and intonation, that's very expressive and meaningful, you can't do that without audio."

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