Creative Careers in Languages, Part 3
By Christine S. Maxwell
Growing up in Pennsylvania, Daniel Bogre Udell spoke English at home and in his community. All this changed when he was 18 and had the opportunity to study Catalan, a language spoken in parts of Northeastern Spain.
Studying Catalan and the culture of more than 9 million people was a life-defining experience for Udell. He was intrigued when he learned of the diverse languages within the borders of Spain. “Most students learn about physical geography of countries but little about languages spoken in those countries,” he remarked. “For example, when most people think of Spain, they think primarily of the Spanish language, but there are at least seven different languages spoken in that country.”
Preserving Our Words
Upon returning to the United States to pursue a degree in technology and design, Udell pondered the vastness of the world’s languages. As a college project, he recorded the histories and languages of friends and colleagues in New York City. All interviewees provided personal data, family background, and languages spoken in their families. His college friend Federico Andrade shared his passion of languages. Andrade grew up in a bilingual English/Portuguese family. Later he studied French, Spanish, Italian, and Japanese. Together, the two friends envisioned global linguistic preservation.
After graduating from college, Udell and Andrade decided to expand the undergraduate project of linguistic diversity into a viable, ongoing endeavor. Alarmed by the possibility that more than half of the 7,000 languages spoken today are expected to become extinct in less than 100 years, Udell and Andrade promoted their cause of preserving and recording all the world’s languages.
With a successful Kickstarter campaign to raise funds, Wikitongues, a new non-profit charged with the mission of linguistic preservation, was borne. In 2015, Wikitongues began as an open source movement with an expanded YouTube channel that had originated from the undergraduate collection of oral histories and the building of a volunteer network.
The conditions were ripe for this project due to the free knowledge movement supported by modern technology. Approximately 45 percent of the median global population has access to smartphones with internet capabilities.
https://www.pweglobal.org/2015/03/19/1-communications-technology-in-emerging-and-developing-nations/ .This makes the creating and sharing of languages easy. Wikitongues has volunteers recording diverse languages in about 200 countries to date.
Wikitongues uses two methods to preserve and record world languages. Through a modern software program called POLY, an open source and user-friendly platform, participants create dictionaries and text. Languages are often paired, e.g., English/Spanish, for easy comparison.
Secondly with the availability of cellular phones, all people are invited to record a brief video speaking their languages. To create the video, participants may use a smartphone, webcam, or other camera. They can upload video to Google Drive and share the video with [email protected]. The special YouTube channel https://www.youtube.com/results?serach_query=wikitongues+channel supports this free contributory movement of language videos. Further, all videos are granted Creative Commons licenses. Unlike larger, for profit companies that focus on widely-spoken languages, Wikitongues seeks to record all languages, regardless of the number of people who speak those languages. At present, the Wikitongues channel displays approximately 350 distinct languages.
Below is a video from the Wikitongues YouTube channel featuring a native Samoan speaker recorded by Ardo Cahyadi:
Language Awareness in the USA
In addition, Wikitongues advocates language diversity awareness within the United States. Udell uses his home city of New York, the most culturally diverse city in the world, to accomplish some of this work. Through a partnership with the Queens Public Library, Wikitongues is coordinating efforts with community associations to conduct language surveys and to record oral histories from different communities. The current community partners in this project are the New York Tibetan Service Center and Adhikaar, a Nepali feminist organization. As an educational outreach, Wikitongues is working with New York City language teachers at the Irish Arts Center to determine how POLY can be incorporated into their curricula.
Wikitongues, in another project scheduled to begin this summer, will assist the Arizona Refugee Resettlement Program. They will provide the technical support for a language program as an orientation for newly arrived people.
Wikitongues provides a valuable and one-of-a-kind service to the world’s population: a celebration of our histories and cultures through the gift of words. To continue its vital mission, Wikitongues seeks additional volunteers and funding to create more platforms for open source participation. For more information on Wikitongues, see https://wikitongues.org.