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Fri Mar 26 22:26:17 UTC 1999

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	      From: "David Harris" <dharris at>
	      To: <endangered-languages-l at>
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	      Subject: ELL: in support of Transparent Language Systems' offer
	      Date: Fri, 26 Mar 1999 17:26:17 -0500
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	      In reference to TLS's offer to provide an authoring system for
	      endangered-language information into automated tutorials, Nick
	      Ostler asks:

	      /Can there be a fruitful marriage of global computing
	      /and indigenous culture?  How do others see this tension?  Or am
	      I perhaps
	      /seeing (at least in this case) potential conflict where it may
	      never arise?

	      Here's an example of how global computing can help:

	      Because of the internet, I have finally been able to obtain
	      information on
	      the Rhaeto-Romance dialects of Switzerland as well as the
	      Grischun variety
	      which many are seeking to adopt as a standard in hopes that it
	      will aid in
	      preserving the language. I am an American of Swiss descent, and
	      I have
	      sought R-R materials with no luck since the early 1980s. Here
	      are three ways
	      the internet has helped:

	      1- Through the internet, I located a Swiss bookseller who was
	      able to
	      provide me with a German-RR dictionary which includes a brief
	      grammar of
	      Grischun as well as a description of variation between the
	      dialects. This
	      dictionary is not available anywhere on the North American
	      continent as far
	      as I have been able to determine.

2- In addition, many of the official Swiss government webpages are in RR
(one of four official languages of Switzerland) as well as French, German,
and Italian (the other three official languages) and English. This has been
a tremendous resource in terms of language learning. Not all the pages are
available in RR, but a fair number are. see: -click on any item in the fourth row (white
button) for RR

3- Better still has been on-line access to the RR journal 'Punts' (Bridges)
which contains articles in Grischun and the dialects. See:

Before I was able to locate information on the web, I didn't even know of
the existence of the Grischun standard which has been around since 1982.
That's how scarce the information on RR is outside Switzerland and the

Will my newly acquired access to RR language-learning materials and reading
materials do much to save RR from extinction? Maybe not. Will the visibility
that comes from the presence on the web of RR texts improve the situation
for RR? Probably. A language certainly stands to benefit from the public
recognition and public access which the web affords. In any case, it
certainly won't hurt.

No one disputes the fact that technology can be dangerous. Toxic waste,
depleted natural resources, and traffic-choked roadways spreading from urban
areas into many smaller towns are all ample evidence of this. But this
doesn't mean all technology is bad. And, judging from the presence on the
web (and on the AM band) of language and cultural information about dozens
of American Indian languages, minority languages of Europe, etc., many in
these speech communities seem to be saying that they agree.
I applaud TLS's effort to reach out to the endangered-language communities
of America and of the world in this way. As a result, I have decided to
purchase three new software titles advertised in a recent mailing to show my
gratitude and support. I also hereby offer my services on a volunteer, ie.
not-for-pay basis (keeping in mind that I am a full-time employee of a small
company which does put some time constraints on me) to any
endangered-language group who may be interested in pioneering this
technology in terms of helping to input data, record speech, figure out how
the authoring system works, or whatever. As a Perl and VB programmer with
HTML experience, I'm certain I will have little difficulty in learning the
authoring system. And, as a former teacher of both Arabic and English, I
believe I have the experience needed to accurately assess the linguistic and
pedagogic issues involved in collaboration with one or more native speakers.
Since I am currently engaged in learning Cherokee, it would make sense to
work with this language. But I'd be willing to help anyone out. The Euchee,
for example, whose re-vitalization efforts hold great interest for me.

Thumb your nose if you will, but you may be missing out on an important
means of helping your children to become proficient in their native tongue.
Obviously, the primary source of native-language proficiency comes from
active participation in a speech community, predominantly from exposure to
the speech of parents, teachers, etc. But there is more to language
learning. Otherwise, why would we study English (or whatever our national
tongues may be) in school?

David Harris
Washington, DC

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