June 01, 2010

Digitizing old language tapes

Trying to save vanishing languages

American Indians turn to recordings at American Philosophical Society.

By Stephan Salisbury
Archivists and librarians at the philosophical society are acutely aware of the precarious nature of native languages. The conference represented the culmination of a three-year effort to digitize the society's holdings--which have been accumulating for more than two centuries--and make them widely accessible over the Internet.

At the same time, the society has sought to work with tribal communities to find ways they can take advantage of the material, formerly available only to a small world of on-site scholars.

Michael Zimmerman, a Pokagon Potawatami linguist from Dowagiac in southwestern Michigan, said he found several hours of tapes in the society's archives recorded a generation ago in his own community. The material will help Zimmerman overcome local resistance to learning Potawatami from outside speakers.

Such resistance, which is not uncommon, has severely hampered efforts to resurrect language in a community that no longer has native speakers, he said.
Below:  "Timothy Powell, director of special American Indian projects for the American Philosophical Society, holds a microphone for Watie Akins of the Penobscot Nation during Welcome Song." (Michael S. Wirtz/Staff Photographer)

1 comment:

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