December 22, 2014 03:32 UTC

American Mosaic

Rosetta Project Aims to Save Languages for Future Generations

The Rosetta Project is named after the Rosetta Stone an ancient marker that helped scientists understand Egyptian hieroglyphs.
The Rosetta Project is named after the Rosetta Stone an ancient marker that helped scientists understand Egyptian hieroglyphs.

Multimedia

Play or download an MP3 of this story
  • Rosetta Project Hopes to Save Endangered Languages for Future Generations

Documents
Originally posted 08/02/11


Welcome to American Mosaic from VOA Learning English!
 
I’m June Simms.
 
On the show today, we play songs from a new album by Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros.
 
We also hear about a creative way one American school is making English classes more available to immigrants.
 
But first, we learn about a project to protect endangered languages.

Rosetta Project
 
There are about 7,000 languages in the world. Experts say half could disappear by the end of the century. But an effort called the Rosetta Project is working to protect them for future generations. Kelly Jean Kelly reports.
 
These two American linguistics students can speak several languages, including French. They are among 12 students taking part in a summer internship program with the Rosetta Project in San Francisco, California. They are working with trained linguists to expand a digital record of endangered languages.
                                                    
The project’s name comes from the Rosetta Stone, the ancient stone marker kept at the British Museum in London. The marker has examples of writing in two different Egyptian writing systems and an early form of Greek. It helped experts understand Egyptian hieroglyphs.
 
Rosetta Project is creating an online collection and an optical disc of writings in different languages. The disc version can be held in the palm of a hand. But it contains 13,000 pages representing 1,500 languages. The Long Now Foundation, a non-profit group, launched the Rosetta Project. Alexander Rose is the Executive Director.

“A single parallel text, a description, a map of where it’s from, these types of things that just give you enough that you can compare to another language that you know or have studied or scholars have figured out, you can start pulling parallels between the two and reconstruct the basics of a language.”
 
The Smithsonian Institution recently organized a demonstration of endangered languages at the Smithsonian Folklife Festival in Washington. Crowds heard examples of Hawaiian and other disappearing languages like Tuvan, which can still be heard in southern Siberia.
 
Many languages are spoken by small groups, says Rosetta Project director Laura Welcher.
 
“They’re spoken by thousands of people or even smaller-sized groups and a lot of those languages are in remote parts of the world. They haven’t been well documented.”
 
Linguists at universities and research centers are in a race against time to record these languages before all speakers are gone. 
     
“The idea is to purposely create a massively parallel collection that is broadly representative of all our human languages, that can be that kind of secret decoder ring for human languages and what we leave for the future.”
 
And, Ms. Welcher says linguists and student interns at the Rosetta Project are doing their part.

An ESL Class on the Move
       
Immigrants and refugees arriving in the United States often have trouble with the way many Americans move from place to place. Only the biggest American cities have good public transportation systems. So you need a car to get to school or work in other parts of the country. This can be a problem for some immigrants.

To pass a driver’s test, they need to speak and understand English. But to learn English, they might need to take classes that they can only get to by driving. One school has found a creative solution to the problem.
       
On a recent Saturday morning, students gathered at the Foreign Language Institute in Nashville, Tennessee. They came for training in English-as-a-second-language, or ESL. The building where the class was held is hard to get to on foot, and there are no sidewalks.
ESL students during a lesson inside their mobile classroom in Nashville, Tennessee. (Mike Osborne for VOA)ESL students during a lesson inside their mobile classroom in Nashville, Tennessee. (Mike Osborne for VOA)
x
ESL students during a lesson inside their mobile classroom in Nashville, Tennessee. (Mike Osborne for VOA)
ESL students during a lesson inside their mobile classroom in Nashville, Tennessee. (Mike Osborne for VOA)

More than 1,200 refugees settle in Nashville each year. Like many American cities, Nashville was built for drivers and their vehicles, not people on foot or bicycles. That makes things difficult for the refugees, since many of them can neither drive nor speak English.
 
Many refugees in Nashville live in apartment buildings 20 kilometers away from the Foreign Language Institute. The Institute decided that if the ESL students could not get to the classroom, the classroom would come to the students.
 
The organization purchased a delivery van and made the back of the truck into a classroom. Officials call it “ESL-to-GO.” It visits communities where immigrants and refugees usually gather. Ashley Ekers is the ESL-to-GO Curriculum Coordinator.
 
“A lot of the time they just couldn’t get to the classes. It was too far for them to walk. They were unfamiliar with the bus system. It was just a barrier that a lot of them couldn’t get over.”
Lulu Nhkum is a refugee from Burma. She was one of the people who urged the Institute to bring ESL classes into the community.
 
“They want to go to the ESL class, but especially in the winter they are also working. For our people - they don’t need to travel. The truck is really helpful to our community.”
 
ESL-to-GO was launched in May. But there is already a waiting list. Even some adults in their 70s are signing up for the classes.
 
“I would be very hesitant probably at that age to attempt to learn a language, but they just believe that they can and they want the skills. They’re very eager to learn.”
 
Ashley Ekers says the refugees she teaches are hard-working students. They want to be independent. And they see learning English as the key to success.

Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros
 
The Los Angeles group Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros released their third album last week. The self-titled album brings back some of the sounds from American music of the 1960s.

Madeline Smith plays some of the new music.
 
Edward Sharpe may be in the band’s name, but the lead singer is really called Alex Ebert. He came up with the character of Edward Sharpe when he was dealing with a drug addiction, and used it as inspiration for the band.
 
The Magnetic Zeros is the name for the other 10 group members. They include the singer Jade Castrinos, who helped Alex Ebert start the band. The other musicians play instruments and make a chorus of back-up vocals, like on the song “Better Days.”
 
Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros first became famous in 2009 with their single “Home,” a song with a happy chorus and a catchy whistled melody. Now, their sound has become more like popular music from the 1960s, with folk and psychedelic influences.
 
Love and hopefulness are common ideas in their songs, and the large group of band members all work together. The lyrics of the song “Life is Hard” talk about celebrating and being thankful for life although it might sometimes be painful.
 
 
We leave you with one of the sadder songs from the new album. Here is the final track from Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros, called “This Life.”
 
I’m June Simms. Our program was written by Caty Weaver and Madeline Smith, who was also the producer. Mike Osbourne and Mike O’Sullivan contributed to this report.
 
Do you have a question about American life, people or places? Send an e-mail to learningenglish@voanews.com. We might answer your question in a future show. You can also visit our website at learningenglish.voanews.com to find transcripts and audio of our shows.
 
Join us again next week for music and more on American Mosaic from VOA Learning English.


This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: Min ho from: Sokcho
08/03/2013 1:24 AM
i don't understand several colum. but i tried to understand the colum. so i will be to famous priest. ok?

Learn with The News

  • Google Scrubbing Search Results

    Video What’s the Top 'Trending' Search This Year?

    At the top of Google’s top-trending searches list is Robin Williams, the American comedian and actor who died four months ago. The list also includes the World Cup, Ebola, Malaysia Airlines, ISIS and Flappy Bird. Chances are that more people have heard of the game Angry Birds than Flappy Bird. More

  • Obama College Sexual Assault

    Video How the US Deals with its Sexual Assault Problem

    A new study shows young women ages 18 to 24 are the most common targets of rape and sexual attack. Many Americans are dealing with the problem. They are hearing and reading about the issue, from awareness and activism at colleges to programs to fight it at the highest levels of government. More

  • Video Helping California’s Homeless

    Federal officials believe there are hundreds of thousands of homeless people nationwide on any given day. Each one lacks a permanent place to live. Reasons for homelessness can include the high cost of housing, poverty and unemployment. Other reasons are mental health problems and bad luck. More

  • Rice farmers in Cambodia tend to their crops. Some 12% of the country's paddy fields are believed to have been destroyed due to the flooding in Southeast Asia.

    Audio Cambodian, Thai Rice Voted Best in the World

    For the third straight year, the World Rice Conference has voted Cambodian rice as the world’s best. This year Cambodia shares the award with Thailand. Cambodia produced just one percent of the world’s rice in 2012. It is trying to increase that amount. The award may help. More

  • Chinese President Xi Jinping, left, and U.S. President Obama participate in a welcome ceremony for President Obama at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, China Wednesday, Nov. 12, 2014. (AP Photo/Andy Wong)

    Audio Is China Starting to Live its Dream?

    Trust in the American dream may be disappearing. But halfway around the world, a new dream has been gaining strength -- the Chinese dream. To be exact: President Xi Jinping’s Chinese dream. But, what is the Chinese dream? And how has President Xi started to make his dream for the country a reality? More

Featured Stories

  • Obama National Christmas Tree

    Audio The History of Christmas in America

    In the first half of the 19th century, Christmas was a very different kind of holiday than it is today. People did not have a set way of celebrating. Christmas was not even an official holiday yet. More

  • Video Music Shows in Private Homes Gain Popularity

    Attending a live musical performance, be it in a huge arena or a small cafe, is an exciting experience. But here in the U.S., a very different kind of performance is gaining popularity: house concerts. “There's just a totally unique experience as opposed to playing like a coffee shop or a bar." More

  • Lee Surrenders to Grant at Appomatox

    Audio Southern General Robert E. Lee Surrenders at Appomattox

    General Robert E. Lee’s military skill and intelligence helped extend the war between the states. But even his skill could not save the South from the industrial power of the North and its mighty armies -- armies that were better-fed and better-equipped. On Sunday, August 9, Lee surrendered. More

  • Uganda Playground for Disabled Children

    Audio Helping Uganda’s Disabled Children Play

    You may think that all children have freedom to play. But for children who look differently from others or have physical disabilities, the idea of play can seem far away. An organization in Uganda is seeking to change that. Read on to learn words needed to talk about this sometimes difficult topic. More

  • A microneedle used to inject glaucoma medications into the eye is shown next to a liquid drop from a conventional eye dropper. (Georgia Tech Photo: Gary Meek

    Audio Tiny Needles Treat Eye Disease

    Glaucoma is the second leading cause of blindness around the world. In the United States, more than two million people suffer from the disease. Now, researchers are developing very small needles that may offer a more effective and painless treatment for glaucoma and other eye diseases. More

Practice Your Writing

Confessions of an English Learner BlogConfessions of an English Learner Blog

Tell us About Our Programs