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Researcher from the University of Gothenburg contributes to the preservation of endangered languages

News: Jul 02, 2012

Crowdsourcing is a method where people are encourage to contribute to the solution of a task or problem, often by using the Internet. This distributed problem solving is open for anybody to engage in. Most often we hear about crowdsourcing in relation to IT projects, but a researcher at the University of Gothenburg has used the method to document, preserve and develop a small endangered language in Nepal.

The use of crowdsourcing to preserve an endangered language and its culture has proven to be successful. Jens Allwood, professor at the University of Gothenburg had the idea to use this method when he became involved in a project that would identify Nepalese languages.

- 25 million people live in a country where the surface is one-third of Sweden and they speak 90-140 different languages, depending on how you define language and dialect, says Jens Allwood. The language Lohorung is spoken by somewhere between 3000 and 10 000 people spread out over large areas. It is a seriously endangered language and in need of documentation. The documentation is not only intended to preserve the language but also for its renewal and development.

Image: Professor Jens Allwood during one of his visits in Nepal

Jens Allwood explains his idea that instead of, as usually happens, linguists and anthropologists go out and collect data and then return home and put it together, the Lohorung people themselves would document their language and culture with the help of simple video- and audio recordings, mobile phones and computers. This documentation would then be available to all who wish to access it.

With the help of information technology and crowdsourcing a multimodal dictionary - or actually more an encyclopedia - with pictures, sounds, writing, and film have been created. The project has entailed both language documentation and language revitalization. Together with colleagues in Nepal, researchers have empowered the community with technical facilities, knowledge and skill to generate, maintain, and utilize language resources and collect them in a multi-modal online encyclopedia.

- We have been working to find ambassadors for the project. We have trained them to be facilitators and they in turn have been active in interviewing people and collecting data, says Jens Allwood. It is open to all speakers of Lohorung to get involved and on the website the month's best contributor is appointed in order to encourage participation.

Jens Allwood says that there is a core group of about 10-15 contributors and a total of maybe up to 100 persons involved. One of those who helped make this possible is a former student of interaction design at Chalmers, Sagun Dhakhwa. His company in Nepal has worked to build an IT network that the project has benefited greatly from. Sagun Dhakhwa has provided the platform and programming.
- Now we need to get this stable enough that they can take over themselves and continue to develop it, says Jens Allwood.

Ultimately, he hopes that the multimodal dictionary can be used in educational purposes, to teach children to read and count in their own language as well as education in areas related to health and energy. When children start school they are taught in Nepali, which means a risk that Lohorung, or the child's native language, is lost. It also means that the child falls behind when they not only have to learn to read and count, but also to learn a new language.

- I also hope that our project can serve as a model project for other small languages in other parts of the world, says Jens Allwood.

The project has been supported by the Swedish Research Council and the program Swedish Research Links and ends later this year.

Link to the multimodal dictionary

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Page Manager: Peter Larsson|Last update: 5/2/2017

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